Last year, Google started letting people upload their own 360-degree photo spheres to Google Maps’ Street View — a collection of 360-degree images within Google Maps. In June, users were able to collect and share their photo spheres via Google's Views site. Now, users can create their own connected photo sphere tours in Views and share them in Street View. That's a whole lot of Google speak, but essentially, Google's expanding its efforts to add more and more crowdsourced imagery to its Google Maps database.
Unlike the practical applications of Google Maps for directions or live traffic reports, Google says it has a more poetic aim for Street View.
"We are trying to inspire people to go out and explore," said Evan Rapoport, Product Manager of Google Maps and Photo Sphere, in a telephone interview with Connect. "If a single photograph and a single photographer can be so powerful, what will happen when we give thousands photographers these incredible tools?"
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Google has been sending out Trekkers — hikers with special camera backpacks — to go places its cars, bikes and snowmobiles can't. After launching the Trek program, Google received a lot of requests for more mapping of users' favorite places around the world. It answered by inviting users to share more of their own images created using Photo Sphere.
"We don’t have tens of thousands of Trekkers," said Rapoport. "We’re really opening up the tools to everyone so they can still contribute."
Users can now connect their photo spheres into navigable "constellations" using Google's Views site. This is done easily with Android-created photo spheres which have location tags, though photo spheres can also be compiled from other digital images as long as you add photo sphere XMP metadata. When made public, these connected photo spheres become virtual tours inside Google Maps' Street View, also known as a "Street View experience."
"A typical cell phone is not going to be able to capture the top of the castle all the way down," said Rapoport, referencing his Street View contribution of an Irish castle tour. "With this, not only can you take a 360-degree photo sphere, but you can also take wide angle shots that can mimic an 18mm lens."
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Since Google made the tool public yesterday, people are already uploading their own connected photo spheres from around the world, including this one of Tiber Island in Rome, Italy. Rapoport expects more people to use the new feature to share images from hiking destinations, neighborhood parks and exotic destinations, though the Google Street View team is cautious about inappropriate use of the public uploading.
"Google Views, like Google+, has a community of photographers and there are some images that may be appropriate to share with your community, but shouldn't be public," Rapoport said.