Although it continues to face criticism from European privacy authorities about Street View, that hasn’t stopped Google (s goog) from adding features to the service. The latest to launch is a kind of user-generated layer to Street View that uses photos uploaded by individuals to create a pseudo-3D panorama of a specific spot. Although there aren’t going to be enough user photos to do this for every site or building, it’s an additional way to get different perspectives on popular landmarks.
If the new feature sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is very similar to a photo feature launched by Microsoft in 2008 called Photosynth, which also takes user-submitted photos of famous sites that have been shot from all different angles and generates a 3D panorama from them. The main difference between the two is that Photosynth requires Silverlight — Microsoft’s competitor to Flash — which only runs on Windows (and Intel-based Macs). Although Google’s new feature doesn’t have a cool name like Photosynth (they just call it “navigating through user photos in Street View,” it offers the same basic functionality, and is available to anyone with Flash).
Google started incorporating user photos into the Street View part of Google Maps last year. It started with photos from Google-owned photo service Panoramio (which has been an option within Google Maps for some time) and more recently added support for Flickr photos as well. But all that did was show you specific photos (if they were geo-tagged properly) when you looked at a location in the regular Google Maps view. With the new feature, which is described in a video embedded below, the photos are superimposed on a Google Street View of the location, and you can easily switch from one to the other.
The benefits of this are obvious when you take a browse through one of the locations that Google has implemented the feature for: the Plaza Orologio in Prague. Street View gives you a view of the street taken from the Google car, but it is static — when you click into the user photos of the plaza, you can easily move from one view of the buildings to another, seeing them from different angles and perspectives, and you can even zoom in on details of the various buildings. The pictures appear in a row superimposed on the street view, so you can click to advance from one to the next, or there are also navigational controls built into the page as well. Another example is the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.