Earlier this year Google decided to make a few changes to what was known as the Street View Trusted program, aka: Business View, aka: Street View for Business. For those in the know, this program has always had a hint of uncertainty since it’s inception as “InnerSpace”. That’s a story for another time. But instead of just doing a name change Google actually pulled a plug from it’s engine leaving the large community of Street View Photographers pondering ways to continue serving their customers. Albeit they did so with fair warning but with no real backup solution readily available.
The plug that was pulled was the actual software that we all used to produce the virtual tours after they were shot. It was Google’s own proprietary software which streamlined the process of stitching the photos, placing the spherical photography within the map, connecting photos with the navigation arrows and finally pushing it live to Google Maps where the public would eventual see and use it.
As a solution Google released it’s API so that software developers from around the world could create a replacement software and utilize it as they see fit. Jokingly, I told people Google is going to allow 3rd party developers to create the software that they couldn’t and will eventually buy those companies to reacquire the software. All jokes aside, it wasn’t a good situation to be in for us as a business.
As a solution, Google was working with a handful of independent developers to hopefully get something in place by the time the April 2017 deadline rolled around. As a result, we had functional but incomplete software due to the limitations of Google’s now public API. For us, we always want to provide the best quality service along with a quality product. In this case, the end product was no longer of the same quality and lacked in features. We simply did not want to mislead customers and wanted to be super honest.
So what was missing? Now, before I go into listing the issues at hand I want to make it clear; yes, the first couple are trivial because they were fixable. The main issue wasn’t known until we had gone through all of our testing and left us feeling like we had been short changed. I’ll leave that for last.
1. Stitching Software / Engine was no longer available. This meant we had to pre-stitch all of the photographs before we could do anything. Previously, Google’s streamlined software would do this for us. Which is the primary reason why we kept our prices lower than anyone else. It allowed for a small tour to produced in under 3 hours. Nowadays, that same tour can take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours minimum.
2. Blurring License Plates and Faces was no longer native to the software. This meant that all blurring and editing had to be done before or after the stitching process. But we didn’t find that out until having to get customer support from the new software developer. Even though they claimed to have a blurring tool. No big deal, lesson learned.
3. Multi Floor Tours are no longer possible due to API restrictions. But they are working on bringing them back. When you have a portfolio that shows a multi level tour using the elevator feature you will get prospective clients wanting that. We have to try to convince customers to settle on a smaller tour.
4. Customizable Starting Points, when developing a tour we would be able to choose a starting point of the tour whether it was in front of the building, in the lobby or right where all the action is. Not to mention the starting angle or POV is not where it’s supposed to be. Meaning you may start a tour pointed in the wrong direction. Now, in order to see the good parts of the tour the user may have to navigate through several areas that may not be as interesting.
5. Conversion from Street View to PhotoSphere on Google Maps. Anyone with a smart phone and the Street View app can take a photosphere. There was something to be said about being a trusted photographer. It meant quality; it meant professionalism; it meant that we were part of a spacial class and product called Street View. Our tours were separated from an ugly photosphere that was of a lower quality. Now, they are one in the same. There’s no longer any indicator as to what is considered professional before you click into a 360 Photo on Google maps. Which leads me to the last bullet point.
6. See Inside / Street View thumbnail is no longer available. This is the major one. After publishing several tours using the new tools we noticed that we couldn’t easily find where the tour was being published to. The expectation was that it would become visible on Google Search within the Knowledge Graph as shown in this screenshot.
That wasn’t the case so we waited. Sometimes due to severe lag we would have to wait 24- to 48 hours for a tour to show up. But it never showed up. It wasn’t until after several complaints that Google mentioned the following, “Virtual Tours would no longer be presented as See Inside or even Street View.” Their reason:
“This has proven to be a confusing and unnecessary distinction for our users because See Inside is often showing exterior views, Street View is often not on streets, and photos are often actually 360 photos.”
I beg to differ… having your tour show up on Google Search was the number one way to show business owners what they are getting and it made total sense to them! Plus, I’ve never seen a See Inside photo show an external view. If it was external then it says “See Outside”. Not to mention, business owners found it more appealing to be able to change their “ugly” Street View photo from a Street View car into a view of their actual building. See our blog on changing Street View photos and see the examples.
Now when I show a business owner the steps a user would take to get to their virtual tour on Google they usually decline as it now take 3 or more clicks to find a tour.
For a several months we tested the available software solutions waiting and hoping that with each day that passed we would eventually get a fully functional software.
Finally that day has come and we are getting back to work.
Unfortunately, Google completely did away with the See Inside View button, yes even for those who were grandfathered in, and now is located in the photos section of your business profile. Look for “360 View” or the little circular arrow icon as seen below.