SmarterParis app

Photo: SmarterParis

Paris can be tough for tourists. As an architect, I love looking at old buildings and historic sites, but not every important building is in the guidebooks. There were so many times that I would pass the standard historic plaques in Paris that were in French only and get totally frustrated; I wanted to read about what event happened or person of note lived there. These historic plaques were everywhere, but bore no relation to what I was seeing in the guides. 

In Toronto, where I live, there was a system called Murmur (now closed), where you could dial a number on your cellphone and get the tourist information in many different languages. I would have expected a tourist-focused place like Paris would have something similar. When I was there, I still carried a Blackberry but thought surely there must be some way they could use QR codes or other systems to deliver this information to me.

French historic plaqueNow that I have an iPhone, I could use SmarterParis. It’s an iPhone app designed by Parisians and English-speaking editors that is a real online city guide. 

As the creators explain: "All the reviews and places listed in our guide are carefully chosen or recommended by us and local friends to provide unique content to the tourists visiting Paris and to offer an alternative to old fashioned paper guide."

It has all kinds of features that should be in any urban explorer’s app, including the ability to work without roaming charges, extensive personalization, guided walks and a “Lucky Dip button that magically finds what you should be doing next.” 

Having traveled a bit in the last few years, I have seen terrible online resources and guides, museum websites that got the hours wrong, and restaurants out of business. I have run through expensive roaming plans trying to use Google maps.

SmarterParis seems to hit all the right notes. It’s designed by young people who are “exploring the buzzy and bustling parts of Paris.” The museum information isn’t just about opening hours, but tells you when to go to avoid the crowds. It looks like a good model for how to design a city guide, and they sure started it in the right place. 

A smart city should be safe, comprehensible and transparent to anyone, and the technology exists to make it so much easier than it has been to find its secrets and its joys. Every city should have something like this. More at SmarterParis.

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Plaque photo: Lloyd Alter

Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.