Google's Photo Sphere Community Wants You

Google seeks photographic contributions to feed its new Views community website and improve its Maps service.

Thomas Claburn

July 30, 2013

2 Min Read
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The next time you see a panhandler asking for assistance, think of Google. The Internet advertising giant is seeking photographic contributions to sustain its new Views community website and make its Maps service more useful.

Views provides a place for Google users to share photo spheres, sets of images stitched together to provide 360-degree views of a location. Views imagery is public and can be viewed on users' profile pages or on relevant Google Maps pages, in the image ribbon where Street View images reside.

Those who have used Google Maps Street View have experienced professionally created photo spheres. The general public can create them using Photo Sphere mode in the Camera app in Android 4.2+ devices or using a DSLR camera.

Google built Street View at great cost by paying people to drive cars equipped with sophisticated panoramic cameras across more than five million miles of roads. It subsequently adapted its hardware to tricycles, boats, snowmobiles and backpacks. And its Maps service, of which Street View is a part, represents even more investment.

[ Check out Google's new tablet and wireless TV device. See Google Nexus 7, Chromecast: Visual Tour. ]

Yet, to augment its official Maps imagery, Google has turned to free labor. Like many other companies, it long ago recognized the latent value that can be wrung out of social interactions online.

At Google, spinning digital work into gold stretches all the way back to its PageRank algorithm: Paying people to evaluate websites would have been expensive; interpreting people's website links as votes about search relevance turned out to be a much more financially sensible way to build a business.

Community contributions have worked out well for the company so far, though there have been a few snafus. For example, in 2011, Google found that its effort to integrate businesses into Google Maps went awry when people found they could alter listings for other people's businesses. Such abuse seems unlikely with Views.

"To upload 360 degree photo spheres, just sign into the Views site with your Google+ profile and click the blue camera button on the top right of the page," said Google product manager Evan Rapoport in a blog post. "This will enable you to import your existing photo spheres from your Google+ photos."

Photographers will not be compensated with royalties or ad revenue, but they can rest assured that the images they create and contribute will help someone somewhere, while adding in a small way to the overall utility of Google Maps and to Google's value as a company.

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