With Google's Photo Sphere, users contribute photos of remote spots

Sep 04, 2013 by Salvador Rodriguez

Mounted on cars, bikes and even snowmobiles, Google Street View cameras have been scouring the globe taking panoramic pictures of roads, alleys and buildings.

The images have redefined the way people navigate, turning two-dimensional maps into a virtual tour guide.

But Google is seeing even more possibilities for one of the most popular Web tools. The search giant wants to turn your into a Street View camera and help it take 360-degree, interactive pictures of every nook and cranny on Earth.

Eventually, Google wants its users to be able to view not only landmarks and buildings but also remote hiking trails, insides of theme park attractions, and beach hideaways - wherever a smartphone can go.

"We want to go everywhere. The idea with this project is to show you the world as it is, to bring you good imagery anywhere you might be interested in looking," said Luc Vincent, Google Maps engineering director. "At a city level, at a street level, indoor, outdoor, on a trail, in Antarctica, in Africa, in the U.S. - everywhere."

But although many travelers are lauding the Photo Sphere initiative, it is raising concerns among and watchdog groups.

Parker Higgins, a spokesman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said that although Google is not breaking any laws, some people already were bothered by Street View simply because they weren't used to the fact that anyone can type in their street address and see their house.

"In other parts of the world, people are very uncomfortable with the idea of Google coming through and photographing everything, and you can imagine that they'd be even more uncomfortable with individuals doing this and collectively uploading to Google," he said.

Google has taken steps to placate privacy worries with Street View, such as automatically blurring faces and captured in photos by Street View vehicles.

It has no plans to do so for the Photo Sphere images but said it has put in place a team of moderators to weed out racially derogatory or sexually explicit images. Users can also easily file a report of a photo that may include privacy violations. It'd be up to Google to delete the image.

"Because the photos go through the moderation process before they are even published, I don't think we have concerns about things slipping through the cracks, and if they do, of course we have the tools that users can use to report issues," said Sierra Lovelace, a spokeswoman for Google.

Owners of certain smartphones were able to take Photo Sphere photos starting last November, but Google ramped up the initiative this summer with a new "Views" website where the images can be seen.

To populate the website with images, Google has begun recruiting individuals to contribute, the same way content was built up for online encyclopedia service Wikipedia.

For now, only those with a smartphone running Google's Jelly Bean 4.2 or higher operating software with the Google camera application can take the pictures, which involves the smartphone user standing in a spot and turning in a full circle while holding the camera.

The user can then view the 360-degree image on the camera before uploading to Google Maps to be shared publicly.

Google did not disclose how many Photo Sphere images have been submitted or published, but so far there are photos submitted from as far away as North Slope, Alaska, down to the South Pole.

The photos can be seen on Google Maps when users search for a place and select the "photos" option. They can also be viewed on Google's "Views" website.

Photo Sphere contributors are making it possible for Google to provide helpful imagery in places Street View has not yet reached. Photo Sphere images can help users get a sense of place.

"Everywhere we go, people are just wanting more and more coverage," said Evan Rapoport, the product manager for Photo Spheres. "So we started really looking at how do we take the technology that we developed in Street View to create these panoramas from individual images and make it available to everyone."

For instance, Google's Street View vehicles have yet to reach Maldives, but there are many Photo Sphere images of the small island nation, which is in the middle of the Indian Ocean. That's because visitors and residents there have begun to use the Google feature.

One user, a surveyor who travels around the country regularly, has been uploading Photo Spheres since the feature first became available in November, and since then, he has posted 70 publicly viewable Photo Spheres.

Munah Ahmed, 28, says Photo Sphere allows him to capture a 360-degree image of the places he visits and see them just as they were when he was there.

Ahmed said that with Photo Sphere, Maldives is showcased with a local's perspective, not just what you might see in a travel brochure.

"If they want to cover the whole world, they need to let their users help them," Ahmed said. " 'Cause even for Google, who knows everything, covering local-related things, they need locals."

Explore further: Hawaii hiking trails to be on Google Street View

5 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Google Maps makes Grand Canyon virtual trek

Jan 31, 2013

Google Maps opened a virtual path to the wonders of the Grand Canyon on Thursday by adding panoramic images gathered by hikers with Android-powered camera systems strapped to their backs.

Google Maps taking viewers inside shops

Nov 01, 2011

Google's free online map service is letting shops, gyms, restaurants and other small businesses provide viewers glimpses of what lies behind facades seen on Street View.

Recommended for you

White House updating online privacy policy

1 hour ago

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Net neutrality balancing act

21 hours ago

Researchers in Italy, writing in the International Journal of Technology, Policy and Management have demonstrated that net neutrality benefits content creator and consumers without compromising provider innovation nor pr ...

Twitter rules out Turkey office amid tax row

Apr 16, 2014

Social networking company Twitter on Wednesday rejected demands from the Turkish government to open an office there, following accusations of tax evasion and a two-week ban on the service.

How does false information spread online?

Apr 16, 2014

Last summer the World Economic Forum (WEF) invited its 1,500 council members to identify top trends facing the world, including what should be done about them. The WEF consists of 80 councils covering a wide range of issues including social media. Members come ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Sep 05, 2013
The only problem is that I would like a timeback feature so I could also see what a place looked like 20, 50, 100 or more years ago.

More news stories

Venture investments jump to $9.5B in 1Q

Funding for U.S. startup companies soared 57 percent in the first quarter to a level not seen since 2001, as venture capitalists piled more money into an increasing number of deals, according to a report due out Friday.

Hackathon team's GoogolPlex gives Siri extra powers

(Phys.org) —Four freshmen at the University of Pennsylvania have taken Apple's personal assistant Siri to behave as a graduate-level executive assistant which, when asked, is capable of adjusting the temperature ...

White House updating online privacy policy

A new Obama administration privacy policy out Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites. It also clarifies that ...

Scientists tether lionfish to Cayman reefs

Research done by U.S. scientists in the Cayman Islands suggests that native predators can be trained to gobble up invasive lionfish that colonize regional reefs and voraciously prey on juvenile marine creatures.

Leeches help save woman's ear after pit bull mauling

(HealthDay)—A pit bull attack in July 2013 left a 19-year-old woman with her left ear ripped from her head, leaving an open wound. After preserving the ear, the surgical team started with a reconnection ...