Google is bringing its new Street View Indoors program to the Buffalo area, giving businesses here the chance to show off their stores, dining areas and showrooms to anyone using the popular search engine.
A Google photographer will visit companies that sign up for the service and take panoramic photos that will be used to create a 360-degree view of the interior of these businesses. Anyone searching Google for one of these businesses will be able to take a virtual tour inside the building; Google bills the service as an invaluable marketing tool.
“I like to say it’s the enhanced experience they get in all things Google,” said Jim Hilker, one of three photographers certified to take photos of upstate New York companies for Google.
The Google photographers will be visiting the Buffalo area Nov. 7-9. Businesses interested in participating in the Street View Indoors program must register in advance at www.streetviewindoors.com.
Businesses of any type and size may register, and Hilker said companies generally will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
The businesses don’t have to pay Google anything to participate in the program, but they will have to pay the photographers for taking, editing and posting the pictures. Hilker said he isn’t allowed to reveal his fee but described it as a “small, one-time fee.”
To participate, companies must have a Google Places for Business page, but a Google photographer can set one up if the company doesn’t have one already, Hilker said. Afterward, businesses can embed a link to the Street View Indoors images on their own websites.
The program is an extension of Google’s Street View service, which allows people to zoom in on an address to gain an on-the-ground image of the location that can be spun 360 degrees or further explored by moving up and down the street.
Street View Indoors picks up the original Street View at the edge of the road and brings the user through the front door and into the business, Hilker said.
The new service was tested beginning in 2010 on a pilot basis in a few communities, including Buffalo, Hilker said.
About a half-dozen businesses in this area, mostly restaurants, still have Street View Indoors photos from that pilot period on Google, but the images aren’t of the quality of the current program, Hilker said.
After working out technical issues and other kinks with the service over the last 18 months or so, Google began introducing it formally in May, Hilker said. Hilker and the other photographers in upstate New York have added Street View Indoors images from about 200 businesses since then, most from the Finger Lakes, Syracuse and Albany areas.
Hilker, who works out of Ithaca, did stop by this area in the spring at the request of the West Herr Automotive Group to take photos inside five of the group’s dealerships, including West Herr Ford Lincoln Mercury in Getzville and West Herr Honda in Lockport. (To find an example of the Street View Indoors images, search Google for “West Herr Ford Lincoln Millersport Highway Getzville,” click on the map that comes up and then click on the photo of the showroom.)
To take the Street View Indoors images, the Google-certified photographers set up a camera on a tripod, take a 360-degree picture and then move the tripod 10 or 15 feet to take another image, repeating this process as often as necessary – up to 30 times, Hilker said. If any customers or employees are caught in the photos, they are blurred before the photos are posted online, Hilker added.
Hilker and his team expect to visit as many as 10 businesses per day while they are in town, but they will be returning every three months or so to add more businesses to the program.
“We’re going to be doing this for many years,” he said.