AUBURN, Maine — When Christopher Carson tried getting aerial images of the U.S. Capitol for a project commissioned by the Capitol itself, he was given an emphatic, governmental, “No!”
The seat of U.S. power is protected by a no-fly zone.
“They said, ‘You could try, but we’d shoot you down,” said Carson, who lives in Auburn.
Instead, artists and cartographers from Carson’s company, CampusTours Inc., electronically stitched together a variety of existing pictures to create a reference image of the Capitol building. That massive image is the centerpiece of a website that the Auburn-based company created for the Architect of the Capitol.
The site, which debuted in September 2010 on www.capitol.gov, has been nominated for the Internet’s most prestigious award, The Webby.
“We never enter awards competitions,” Carson said. “The people at the Capitol asked us to enter.”
About 10,000 projects — websites, apps, videos and marketing campaigns — were entered in the international contest. From those, five nominees were chosen in nearly 70 categories.
The CampusTours’ project was nominated in the government category, alongside NASA’s website and an exploration of the solar system created by the Jet Propulsion Lab.
The winners will be notified next month and awards will be presented in a Manhattan gala on June 14.
“I’m very proud that we were involved in this,” Carson said. His staff of 18 — located in Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia and Florida — took 10 months to build the site.
The Capitol site features video, an interactive timeline and more than 4,000 images.
Some of the pictures and drawings have rarely been seen outside protected archives. Among them is a drawing of the charred remains of the Capitol, burned in 1814. The image depicts a charred center between the standing wings of the Senate and House of Representatives.
It is the only surviving image of the building in that condition, having been set ablaze by soldiers during the War of 1812.
Carson still marvels at the sheer scale of information as well as its prestigious content.
“It was one for the portfolio,” he said. “You only get one chance to do a project like this.”
He said he is hopeful that its success will lead to similar work from other government organizations, museums, private businesses and tourist attractions.
It’s a long way from the work that got him started while working as a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh.
He had been working for an online company when he noticed the way colleges and universities appeared on the Internet.
“They were plain and text-heavy,” he said. “Boring.” But they were eager to reshape their presence on the Internet.
When other kinds of organizations were still debating the Internet’s usefulness, colleges seemed to see value in interactive tours and finely crafted maps that showed off campuses to prospective students.
The business took off. The company started in 1997.
Though less exhaustive than the Capitol project, Carson’s school sites compile photos, video and detailed maps into interactive campus tours. They include elaborate creations for highly regarded and popular schools, including Providence College, the University of Denver and Berklee College of Music.
And most of the time, it’s done invisibly.
“You will not see ‘CampusTours’ on any of our websites,” he said.
It seems to fit for a company that likes to stay quietly behind the scenes, said Carson, who serves as the company president and works from an office in his 19th century Victorian house in rural Auburn.
A decade ago, Carson and his wife, Diana, moved to Lewiston from Pennsylvania. The couple met as students at Bates College and returned to Maine for its slower pace.
He is unsure whether he’ll go to New York for the Webby Awards, which are scheduled to be held atop the Standard Hotel in the city’s Meatpacking District.
If CampusTours doesn’t win, he plans to stay home.
If it does win, he’ll likely attend and give one of the awards’ trademarked short speeches, which are strictly capped at five words.
To see CampusTours’ Webby-nominated creation, an interactive tour of the U.S. Capitol, go to www.capitol.gov.
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