Next phase: Immersive closeups of Earth.

Georeferenced 360-degree panoramas of places on Earth have been with us since the start of the neogeography craze. Back in July 2005, Berkeley University’s panoramas from around the world were georeferenced, and they soon became a staple on Google Earth.

A few weeks ago, Google’s Street View caused a stir, both for its illuminative qualities and for the privacy concern it generated in some quarters. The focus with Street View is very much automated blanket coverage — so far in US cities only.

What about Europe? Two websites have taken up the baton in Europe. The previously mentioned Arounder, but also 360 Cities. What’s interesting is how they’re going about their task — there even seems to be a business model that is sustaining them.

Neither site aims to be exhaustive. Instead, each focuses on the most interesting spots in (mostly) European cities, but also on their shops, bars and caf├ęs. In the case of Arounder, commercial places are clearly paying for the privilege of having their interiors photographed (and in the interests of full disclosure I think 360 Cities should tell if that’s what they do) but this presents an interesting new revenue opportunity, in addition to the ads they are showing. (360 Cities also lets you buy high resolution posters of the panoramas.)

Some of the cool features to be found on these sites:

  • 360 Cities links to a KML placemark for every panorama in its database.
  • 360 Cities has an effective Google Maps-based solution to placemark crowding — in fact it is almost identical to how Flickr’s Yahoo Maps-based solution avoids crowding. Do try it.
  • Check out Venice in 360 Cities — beautiful! If you want to know how exactly the 360 panoramas get made, check out this one. (Hint: scroll to the left.)
  • In general Arounder tends to focus more on insides of places and cultural highlights, whereas 360 Cities tends to have more of an outdoors focus.
  • I remember finding one place in Arounder that had a soundscape to go along with it, but can’t find it anymore. Still, I think this is very much the way to go in the future. After all, QTVR lets you embed sound files.

One more thing: In case you want to try this at home, Maganalox today announced that you can add geoerefenced QTVR panoramas to your GPS logs. I think that making panoramas yourself is going to become much more popular than it currently is, not just because the equipment is becoming much cheaper, but also because the software component has become so automated, and because with KML 2.2 such panoramas will be viewable by default from inside Google Earth. That makes for one big inducement to start experimenting with the technology:-)

Now I’m off for a road trip along the west coast of the US. Posting will resume after the weekend.

(360 Cities via Gadling)

4 thoughts on “Next phase: Immersive closeups of Earth.”

  1. As a bit of self-promotion I would add that my panoramic site is totally geo-referenced as well (Google Maps, KML/GPX download, GeoRSS). It may not be as rich-looking as Arounder and company but hey, for just a spare-time non-profit hobby 550+ images is quite a lot :-)

  2. Panoramics are pretty incredible and can be quite breathtaking in my opinion, from their use aesthetically (such as the European cities you mentioned) to using them as substitutes for virtual tours on college/apartment hunting websites, etc. You Google Street View, which raises some ethical questions (see: http://thenewsroom.com/categories/Science%2Band%2BTechnology?c_id=wom-bc-je) — but fact is, I think for the above reasons, it’s a pretty incredible technology.

    – Jennifer from The Science Desk at TheNewsRoom.com

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