360 going places

October 2016

A few months after I began shooting 360 panoramas I’m more and more watching a sideroad of the web I didn’t pay attention to before: Google Places. It actually started with a little surprise. View numbers for my 360 panoramas uploaded through the Streetview app had reached > 1.5 million and continued to rise quickly – certainly not what I expected. After taking a closer look at the numbers for various panoramas it became clear that Places, not the Streetview-like presentation on Google Maps was probably driving traffic. How so?

View numbers for different panoramas show imbalances that aren’t exactly matching the real life prominence of the location. A small town panorama like this one from Landshut/Bavaria has had more than 70-thousand views over the last months while this inside panorama of Milan’s world famous dome gets only a handful views a day. Makes no sense? It does when you include that panoramas are also shown in the photo section of a Google Place.

If you’re lucky there are almost no other panoramas – the 360 picture then ends up at a prominent position and is most likely seen by people who look up the location on Google or by searching in the Google Maps app. I guess this is what happened with my Bavarian panorama on Places. Milan is a different story – dozens and dozens of 360 panoramas had already been uploaded from within the building, conquering the best positions in the dome’s photo cluster. Only a few users (hi!) scroll or swipe down to my panorama.

Apart from these specifics it’s safe to say that Google Places is a great place to present 360 content. Loads of users swing by everyday so 360 is creating real impact. Plus, it’s easy and intuitive to use.

The problem with Google and 360 – and here begins my subjective view mixed with speculation – is that there’s a lack of synchronization between products. Take Google+. Uploading a spherical 360 picture isn’t – as one could expect – creating a panoramic presentation. The picture is rendered like a normal photo. Take Google Maps. Sharing the URL of a 360 picture works only in desktop environments without headaches. The same URL shared to an iPhone launches the Google Maps app, presenting 360 panoramas as flat, static pictures. At this time, while Google does fascinating things with 360, there’s still no consistent, foolproof user experience.

Compare that to Facebook and the contrast is obvious. Sharing 360 content on Facebook is so easy it’s hard to find flaws. Uploading 360 pictures and videos simply generates a panoramic presentation with no further knowledge needed. Looking back in a few years many will equal their first VR-ish experience with Facebook as a brand. That’s how the West is won.