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.