I passed a fair amount of time this past week in the jungles Africa, hanging out with the gorillas – well, on my iPod Touch, at least.
What I was really doing was checking out the iGorilla app for the iPod and iPhone that has just appeared on the iTunes store.
I happened on a newspaper story about this little app, and thought it was interesting enough to warrant investing a little bit of time and money in – all of four bucks, actually.
What you get for that four bucks is a little app you can run on your iPod or iPhone (it won’t work on any other smart phone, by the way) that introduces you to the four families that make up 200-or-so-strong gorilla tribe in Virunga National Park, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is essentially just a smart-phone implementation of the park’s web page at www.gorillas.cd.
That website, and the iGorilla app, consists of information and photos about each member of the tribe, and links to live-action YouTube movies taken of the tribe members in action.
The pictures, videos and the blog information are all provided by the park wardens, whose job it is to care for and protect these endangered animals.
Given that it is really just a redeployment of the information offered for free on the website, it might seem like a rip-off to have to pay four dollars for the iGorilla app; but you are not so much buying the app, in this case, as making a donation to the very worthy cause of conserving these creatures and the shrinking environment they live in.
As they affirm on the gorillas.cd web page, the app was developed free of charge for the park by a US interactive media company called I-SITE (as in “eye sight,” get it?); they also affirm there that the app “costs $3.99 to download from the iTunes App Store with 70 per cent of the proceeds going directly to the field.”
Having played around with the thing for a day to two, I can say that I am getting pretty fair value for my donation, at least so far.
I am a sucker for animals of all sorts, and there is a real charm to perusing the pictures of these sometimes-cute, sometimes-pretty-fearsome animals, getting to know their names, habits and relationships with each other.
Furthermore the videos on YouTube are of good quality, and really do serve to flesh out the word-and-photo portraits on the app.
After a while, you find you can actually identify the individuals in some of these videos, playing with each other or having threat-display showdowns
They are not just generic apes to you now; they are personalities you know something about, and even develop some level of feeling for.
As a fund-raising tool, and as a preservation advocacy tool, this unpretentious, basic-functional little app is a very sweet piece of work – enough so that I will hear break my habitual wariness about making product endorsements in this space, and recommend you buy it, if you have an interest in gorillas, or an interest in nature conservation.
That said, I will also do full disclosure and provide a few caveats, too.
First of all, the warden-created blog entries for some of the families look to have been extremely intermittent, in the past, and some still look dodgy.
The blog covering the activities of the family of the dominant-male Kabirizi, for instance, has not been updated since April 29 – more than two weeks ago, as of this writing – and shows a history gap of almost two months between February 10 and April 13 of this year.
On the other hand, the recent blog history shows increased posting activity over the past month or so, probably related to the build-up to the release of the iGorilla app as of May 15.
It can only be hoped that the inspiration and demand created by app sales will encourage the wardens to post more frequently.
The other minor problem with the app is that it does ran quite slowly – though I have not been able to determine, yet, how much of this is the fault of the app itself, or the fault of the server providing the feed.
Still, if you are in a big rush to snap through your time with iGorilla, you are probably missing the point: The whole point of the experience, here, is to slow down and appreciate an environment and way of life utterly detached from – though also imperiled by – our hyper-technical, deracinated existence.
The interesting innovation, and the inspiring vision, in iGorilla is not the app itself, which is nothing special; what is interesting is the new opportunities it opens for conservationists, social justice advocates, and other such organizations to engage with a new audience in a new way, to solicit their donations and support.
Think, for instance, of the potential of this kind of iCharity app as a tool for soliciting donation support for impoverished families, or families in need of disaster relief.
And there are any number of other endangered animal species that could conceivably benefit from the same kind of attention and preservation-support the iGorilla app shows the way for.
You don’t always have to create a new tool to be an innovator; sometimes you can just use an existing tool in a new way, for a new purpose.
That is what the people at Virunga National Park have done – and more power to them for it, and all the luck in the world to them, and to the gorillas, too.
Oh, and a final, very important warning: If you are going to buy iGorilla, make sure you get the right one!
There is another iGorilla app on sale on iTunes for 99 cents, which is just a silly app that records your voice and plays it back in a deep “gorilla” voice.
Make sure you buy the $3.99 iGorilla, which is the real deal.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie who lives in Whitehorse.