Over the past two years, one of the many programs Google has been testing and developing is called Business Photos. It grew out of the “street view” aspect of Google Maps, which provides a 360-degree panoramic view of the area around a street address.
Business Photos now extends that same technology inside certain local business establishments that want to give it a try. Among the first piloting the technology are the Soma restaurant Ironside, nearby wine bar District, Public Bikes, and the Brick Monkey, in Redwood City.
Chris Vance, owner of District and Ironside, says he just started using the program at the end of last year, “and already, I don't know what we'd do without it.”
That’s because it’s helping him get more business. “People can just look on the site and a get 360 degree view and see if they like it without having to actually visit the restaurant.
“It helps us get events. People coming to tech events, maybe from out of state, can see and decide whether it’s right for them. It definitely helps us get more business.”
Vance says that initially he had to overcome some reservations about letting a photographer have such unfettered access to his restaurant.
“When Google approached us, at first I felt kinda weird about it, you know, having someone having free walk through access when restaurant was empty. It was mainly security concerns on my part.
“But then when I saw what they could do in just 20 minutes it was pretty amazing. I am a photographer myself, I went to photo school, and I still don't understand how they do it. How they piece it together.”
Google spokesperson Deanna Yick explains how it works:
“Basically what this is about is being able to take that immersive 360 degree experience of street view and take it indoors. Photographers use tripods with multiple lenses to take photos from all different angles, above, below, side views and then stitch them together into a 360-degree view. You can see inside the business and get a feel before you ever walk through the door.”
In a blog post on May 1, Google unveiled the latest aspect to the Business Photos program, which involves Trusted Photographers (both pros and novices), who have been trained how to use Google’s technology on behalf of the local businesses that choose to participate in the program.
(Local photographer Tev Lee handles the Ironside and District shoots.)
“Now we’ve opened both sides of the ecosystem, so to speak,” says Yick. “We’re taking requests from business owners and also training more photographers.”
So far there are several dozen Trusted Photographers, and several hundred businesses, not just in the Bay Area, but also in many urban centers across the U.S., the U.K., New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Ireland, and the Netherlands.
The program is free for the businesses, and an opportunity for local photographers to be hired by them to use Google’s technology, which is also free, to stitch together the panoramic views.
“It's really part of our mission to map the world and make a mirror image of the real world,” says Yick. “We hope it adds another viewpoint in a helpful way.”
“It's a great marketing tool for us and for them too,” says Chris Vance. “It’s the wave of the future.”