TechCrunch has a provocative post about a “stealth startup” called Vutool. According to the post, the company was/is seeking to create a 3-D street-level view of the entire country by having people take multiple images from cars. The post suggests that the company failed to get series A funding and was acquired by Google.
Microsoft has experimented with street-level photography and Amazon had already largely accomplished this with its now defunct A9 “Block View” photography taken from vans with automated, rotating cameras. (Former A9 CEO Udi Manber left for Google in early 2006.)
It’s not clear what Vutool is or was but both Google and Microsoft have a vision of connecting street-level views with maps and aerial imagery. Microsoft is arguably further along with Birds Eye photography and its automated 3-D rendering (via its earlier acquisition of Vexcel).
All the mapping services have aerial/satellite imagery at this point. But nobody, since the demise of A-9′s “Block View,” has good street-level coverage.
It would seem that here user-generated content (a la Flickr) would be the most economical and scalable, if inconsistent, way to capture imagery at ground level. Nonetheless the concept behind Vutool and similar efforts is important and will eventually come to pass.
As the Internet becomes more and more a visual medium, images (and video) become more important as sources of information for users and advertising vehicles for marketers. But the place where Virtual Earth 3-D, Google Earth and similar “metaverses” (Second Life) may find their ultimate adoption is on the living room TV screen.
As the Internet comes to TV, these metaverses and rich, immersive versions of our world may find more adoption and usage than they do today among mainstream consumers online. There’s something of a collision coming between virtual worlds, gaming and geo-browsing. Commerce and shopping are in there too.
Recall that both Microsoft and Google now own companies that insert ads into games. In addition, a conventional search box (and the corresponding “10 blue links”) is not going to translate very well into a “big screen” environment, just as it currently doesn’t work that well on mobile devices. There are some very interesting scenarios to contemplate in all this.
Having had some of these discussions with them myself, I know that executives at Google and Microsoft are mulling all these things over.