If there’s an important bit of information you need to know you can bet that Google is trying to squeeze it into their maps. The latest bit of insider knowledge making its way to Google Maps is, in fact, knowledge of what things look like on the inside. The search engine giant has started to roll out panoramic pictures of the interiors of buildings. As with StreetView, photos taken for Google’s Business Photos will allow users on Google Maps to pan, tilt, and zoom, essentially giving them a 3D-like view of a location’s interior. Want to know if a restaurant has a classy enough interior to impress your date? Curious as to how big a hotel’s conference room really is? Is that pet store mostly filled with freaky fish instead of cute puppies? Now, the Places on Google Maps can let you know. Watch the commercial for the new feature in the video below, followed by a demonstration of the technology from VP Marissa Mayer. Digital maps are becoming so packed with visual data that soon you won’t need to go anywhere anymore – you’ll be able to see almost everything without leaving a computer.
While Google has announced that Business Photos will eventually be available around the world, they’re rolling out the feature first in the US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand in select cities (see the list here). Like StreetView, Google will be responsible for taking the photos themselves. Businesses have to apply to have Google come and perform a photoshoot (takes about an hour). Once complete, the photos will soon be available to explore, hopefully drawing customers into your business. Here’s Google’s cutesy commercial to explain that to you without dialogue:
Google Places (which most of us see as those little pin icons with letters on them on Google Maps) has allowed customers and owners to upload photos for a business for a while now. If you’re in a city (San Francisco is a great example) most of the retail establishments you find on Google Maps will have reviews, comments, and a few pics, as well as the basic information on address and hours. The new panoramic pictures, however, are going to be a step above. It really is like StreetView for the inside of your business. Marissa Mayer, VP of Consumer Products, recently demonstrated Business Photos at the Social-Loco event in San Francisco. Here’s a look at the relevant portion of that presentation (audio and video quality is mediocre…my apologies):
To recap what you saw in the presentation, a special area of a place page on Google Maps will now be reserved for Business Photos. When you click on it, you’ll be transported inside the building, just as Street View transports you onto the street in front of businesses. Look around and explore the interior of an establishment well before you ever arrive there. Previews like this could really help sell customers on restaurants, retail shops, hotels, and other storefront businesses (not coincidentally, these are the kinds of places that Google is targeting with its first wave of applications).
Despite Mayer’s presentation at Social-Loco, I’m a little worried that Google’s FAQ says: “We’re taking panoramic photos, which initially will appear on your business Place Page as single shots, and over time may be stitched together into a panoramic view.” [That emphasis is all mine.] There’s really no room for ‘may’ here. The real value of getting a Google photographer out to your place is allowing customers to then explore that space in a sort of 3D-like way (as we do with StreetView). If these pics aren’t stitched together, why bother – businesses can take wide-angle photos on their own and post them just fine. Let’s not forget that there are competing maping groups who are taking the field to the next level. When I saw Swedish mapmaker C3 publicize their gorgeous 3D interior and exterior maps I knew that Google would have to do something along the same lines. …And they will, provided they actually stitch these things into explorable panoramic views. These Business Photos won’t be as visually stunning as C3’s models, but they probably satisfy the needs of most customers if they’re close enough to the quality we see on StreetView.
Even if Google doesn’t follow my obvious advice (and let’s face it, if they were in the habit of doing that they would have sent me a robot car by now) I think it’s clear that explorable interiors of buildings are coming to digital maps everywhere. It just makes sense: we can explore streets and the outsides of businesses, the next step is to let us peak inside. Of course, this is just one of the many frontiers in digital maps, which have practically been exploding with new feature and applications in the past few years. As an obvious meeting place of the digital and physical world, these maps are going to keep being pumped full of information, and we’re all likely to become more dependent on them as that happens. For instance: I wanted to go home hours ago, but my iPhone ran out of batteries, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get lost if I try to walk home without a map. Five blocks is a long way.
Curse you digital maps for my self-inflicted dependency on you! You’ll rue the day you…ooh, look, someone posted a new review on my favorite pizza place…