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312GO Puts a Neighborhood Expert in Your Earbuds

By Paul Biasco | October 24, 2013 7:28am
 Matt and Brent Engel created the 312GO app.
Matt and Brent Engel created the 312GO app.
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LINCOLN PARK — A new app aims to be a personal tour guide for Chicagoans who might not know about the fascinating, quirky and sometimes creepy history of their neighborhoods.

312GO features thousands of audio bytes for neighborhoods on the North Side with facts ranging from the location and history of anarchist Emma Goldman's hideout at 2126 N. Sheffield Ave. to the location of Robert Todd Lincoln's house at 1240 N. Lake Shore Dr.

"It's things like that. Wow, I live right next to this and it was the biggest terrorist hunt in the country at one time and they found her here," said Brent Engel, who created the app with his younger brother Matt.

On average, the app features about five to seven audio bytes per mile, and each sound clip lasts between 30 and 45 seconds.

 The 312GO application has thousands of geo-triggered audio bytes that serve as a personal tour guide to Chicago's neighborhoods.
The 312GO application has thousands of geo-triggered audio bytes that serve as a personal tour guide to Chicago's neighborhoods.
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Each sound clip is programmed to sync up with GPS and play when users get close to a relevant location.

The idea was originally to build an application for runners and cyclists to provide interesting entertainment while trekking around the city, but Engel said they soon realized the software could be much more than that.

"I thought it would be really cool for when you are running and biking and you see things you don't really know what they are and you hear a voice come on," Brent Engel, a 31-year-old Old Town resident, said.

Areas currently covered by the app include the Lakefront Trail, Lincoln Park (neighborhood), Lincoln Park (park), Old Town, Gold Coast, Streeterville, the Magnificent Mile, River North, the Loop, Millennium Park and Grant Park.

The points of interest are broken up into 12 categories (family friendly, restaurants, crime and vice, etc.) and users can customize the type of content they want to hear

It's taken the brothers nearly a year to create the database of facts, said 25-year-old Matt Engel.

"It takes a lot of leg work," the younger Engel said. "I'm constantly learning and learning new ways to find the facts."

That means countless hours in the library, at the Chicago History Museum and just walking the street speaking with residents and business owners.

"It's really just walking around the blocks, popping in the stores and talking to people," Matt Engel said.

Brent Engel, who works in finance, came up with the app, but has since persuaded his younger brother to quit his job as a trader to work for 312GO full-time.

The younger Engel said juggling both jobs was having a negative impact on each of them and he had to make a choice.

In mid-September about a month before the app launched, he dove in head first.

"I felt like I wasn't performing well enough with trading and had to make a choice and ultimately chased what I was most passionate about," Matt Engel said. 

The goal is to continue building their audio inventory until the whole city is covered — and maybe expand to other cities if it catches on in Chicago.

"It's a reason to go check out a neighborhood on a nice Saturday morning," Brent Engel said. "Even if you are running with it, it gives you incentive to take a different route."

Because the app was originally designed with biking and running in mind, it tracks your distance, speed and pace.

There is even a suggested route screen that will help generate a plan with specific neighborhood points in mind that matches desired distance with an area of exploration.

"There's so much in the city and so much to unravel," Matt Engel said.

The app, priced for $1.99, is available for iPhones and iPads.