Earthmine – or the advent of panoramas as annotatable canvas

TechCrunch has been providing some great coverage of the upcoming crop of Google StreetView competitors. After covering Everyscape, they now have a preview of Earthmine, which lets you annotate content inside its street views.

(For some reason, all these services use San Francisco as their prototype/demo:-)

Note, too, that the company providing the technology and content for Google’s StreetView until now, Immersive Media, has announced it will no longer be providing Google with content after the end of the year. Meanwhile, Google is arranging to acquire its own content. Emad Fanous speculates the reason for the split-up is licensing issues. Specifically, Google wants to incorporate the imagery into their Google Maps API (or some other unspecified API).

And why might Google want to do that? Well, just look at what Everyscape and Earthmine are up to.

I do think the winner in this, however, will be whoever manages to open up their API the most. Who will let me embed on iMyFacePressType a guided tour of my walk up Fifth Avenue, annotated with what I bought on the sides of the buildings where I bought it? Or will the mooted Google MyWorld let you do something like that? Perhaps using SketchUp models, so you can annotate favorite art in museums or the locations of employees’ offices at HQ? (Or not?)

Google’s secret of its success in the mapping world has been to be as welcoming as possible to user-generated content, both by removing all barriers to contributing and by providing the best possible background canvas on which to display the content. Until now, panorama views of specific locations in Google Earth have been provided by third parties such as Gigapxl, Gigapan and 360Cities. But with the advent of Earthmine, such content is becoming part of the annotatable canvas.

If systematically created panoramas as part of the annotatable canvas are the future, will user-generated or third-party content still be able to compete? It will if future versions of KML allow us to pinpoint placemarks within panoramas, link between panoramas, and connect such in-panorama placemarks to geographic locations on the base map.

In the long run, of course, we’d just want to be able to paint panoramas onto a very accurate 3D rendering of the world, so that every spot in the panorama and its corresponding coordinate on Earth become one. And while this is technically a complicated feat, the best stab at this I’ve seen is Microsoft’s impressive PhotoSynth.

In the very long run, of course, we’re all dead. Pardon this meandering post:-)

7 thoughts on “Earthmine – or the advent of panoramas as annotatable canvas”

  1. If the speculation concerning the Maps API is leaning accurate, then that would probably mean they already have proof-of-concept in-house. It would be interesting to know exactly why Immersive is passing up such an opportunity, or if they think they’re playing hard-ball for the highest bidder.

  2. For a great example of being able to annotate panoramic content, check out Gigapan ( Once you get to gigapixel resolution, annotation is a must-have because there’s just so much to explore and share.

    I’m not a big fan of putting cameras on cars and driving around; most of what’s wonderful in the world isn’t best viewed from the road. Gigapan lets people create and upload panoramas from anywhere :-).

  3. I’d read that Google was acquiring their own street images a long time before this announcement, so I wonder if it’s not just an issue of Google realizing they could do it cheaper/better/faster on their own, perhaps higher res, perhaps with added range info, etc..

    I think the API issue is interesting. If IM got paid per view, I’d think embedded map views would still get counted via the API, and the risk of “scraping” the data seems just as bad either way.

    But what if someone cleverly converted the data to polygons + textures for a more real-time 3D view? Then licensing gets as complicated as it does for Google Earth, when 60 frames per second should not equal 60 “clicks” per second.

    But as always I have no inside information, so don’t read anything into my idle speculation.

  4. BTW, Stefan, in the long run, panoramas will disappear. Once it’s fast enough to do the plenoptic warping on your PC and/or convert the panoramas+depth to 3D models and render that in real-time, we’ll forget about these discrete bubbles of reality (nodes) and move to something more continuous, like Google Earth with more photorealism wherever you look.

  5. Avi, you’re right, and that is what I was trying to say in the second-to-last paragraph. Enough panoramas close enough + some very clever softwar should be able to create such 3D worlds. In the future.

  6. Avi,

    I think it was you and I that discussed something on your blog — about whether Google would be able to register and drape StreetView data over models eventually. I suppose if Immersive came to this realization as well — they could have decided to jump the price-point, thinking that the data would be considered more valueable in that regard.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the case.

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