Station Spotlight: WTTW's Chicago Loop Interactive Tour

by Kelsey Savage, Station Products & Innovation

During my summer internship at WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, I was assigned to help produce a segment on the city’s wide array of rooftop gardens. During our two days of filming, I rode around Chicago in the station’s unmarked mini-van with Geoffrey Baer and other fellow WTTW staff, the cameraman who also doubled as our driver for the shoot.

As we drove, Geoffrey rattled off facts about Chicago’s rich cultural history, impressive architecture and the tumultuous local politics scene. In those two days alone, I learned more about the 'Windy City' than I knew about my own hometown (which is saying a lot since I grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts—the birthplace of the American Revolution). Now, thanks to WTTW’s Online Team, all Chicagoans can replicate that experience through a neat, interactive map and audio tour that allows them to explore the downtown Loop with Geoffrey Baer (sans mini-van).

John Ritterbush, a Web Developer at WTTW, explained that the team was planning on developing an audio tour as a companion to Baer’s new documentary, but “as we started brainstorming we realized this was an opportunity to incorporate some modern web design/development techniques.” Specifically, they believed an interactive tour would give viewers “a chance to encounter the architecture and Chicago scenes face-to-face.” Ritterbush continued by stating that the tour is “a real 3-D experience without the expensive 3-D glasses. Plus letting the viewers tour the city in person adds the extra bonus of the smells of the city that you just can't capture in on TV (unless you have access to the wonder of Smell-O-Vision).”

Additionally, the team also wanted to “challenge the notion that the user has to have an “app” for everything they do on their mobile device.” Ritterbush noted that, "like many member stations, we simply don't have the resources to create iPhone and Android apps for all the shows we produce, so being able to create something that could serve many devices without having to learn an entirely new language was a huge help for us."

Instead, by using Google Maps and HTML5 as their foundation, they created a site that would adapt to the viewer’s devise, whether it was a tablet or any variety of smartphone, and be accessible through their mobile browser. They also worked with jPlayer to create a site that would function on devices that lacked Flash. “Ultimately this interactive map is a great example of a way to find solutions to get around any limitations you or your organization may have,” Ritterbush said.

Given that this was a new venture for the WTTW team, they were careful to make sure that everything ran as smooth as possible. Ritterbush’s advice to anyone trying to undertake a similar project is, "...get your hands on as many mobile devices as you can (bug your friends with iPads, Kindle Fires, and Motorola Droids if you have to and try to break your own interactive content first. We managed to get quite a bit of testing in, but you can always do more."

WTTW also set up a contingency plan in case viewers were having trouble viewing the map. For example, the website gives visitors the chance to download the audio tour or print out a PDF map.

Now that the WTTW web team has completed this project, they will be looking for more ways to produce interactive content for other popular local shows, like Check, Please and Jay’s Chicago. We can’t wait to see the final product of their next innovative and educational project.

1 comment:

  1. I love this tour! Of course I'm not in Chicago, so I'd love to see pix of what I'm hearing. Any thoughts about rounding this out with photos or video for those who can't be there?