Google's Street View app, alongside Google Earth, has ever-so-slightly changed the world--buying a house may never be the same again, for one thing, nor will smartphone-based navigation. And that's probably why another tech giant wants in on the same action. Microsoft's apparently due to have a go with its own application dubbed GeoSynth.
But unlike Google's imagery which is sourced by a fleet of sensor-equipped cars with 360º-view cameras and laser range-finders driving the highways and byways of the world, Microsoft is going to find its images from someone else, namely, you. Essentially GeoSynth is going to function as a mashup between Microsoft's Virtual Earth maps system and its PhotoSynth technology.
PhotoSynth, if you haven't seen it, is a pretty remarkable piece of tech that rolled out of Microsoft's Live Labs run by Gary Flake. By performing some clever math equations, it can take crowd-sourced images of famous landmarks, and create pretty seamless 3D-walkaround footage by morphing and transforming the images successively as the viewer's virtual viewpoint translates around. Check it out in the video--it's undeniably impressive.
And Microsoft thinks the system is now ready for a bigger project, namely GeoSynth--a virtualized, crowd-sourced, image-driven world map. The service will take the images and metadata from geotagged imagery supplied by the public to a special database and form them into Streetview-like world view application. Microsoft Virtual Earth expert Johannes Kebeck explained that the system will apparently be moderated somehow, so the "system would take the best images from a location to create a single image of a specific landmark," when talking to PocketLint.co.uk. If the scheme takes off and generates enough crowd-sourced images, it'll eventually be possible to view pretty much anywhere on the planet.
The third leg of the new app technology will apparently by Microsoft's Silverlight, the company's imagery/video accelerator browser plugin. Apparently it's due to be incorporated into Street View this summer and will speed up the system by eight times for users using IE8 as a browser (and five times for Google Chrome users.)
GeoSynth sounds clever, and it's certainly a much more cost-effective way of sourcing the images than having a fleet of specialized cars drive across the planet. Plus, where there are sites of specific interest, such as a famous landmark, the PhotoSynth aspect should allow you to view even more detailed imagery than is possible from Google's system. GeoSynth hasn't officially been announced, but it's reportedly due to arrive "later in the year."
Update: It seems that Johannes Kebeck's words have gone slightly awry in between him saying them and them ending up in the news. Microsoft has just contacted us to clear up the situation, and according to their spokesman: "Johannes Kebeck’s comments were taken somewhat out of context. GeoSynth is a standalone version of Photosynth offered by Vexcel that is licensed to public sector companies. There are no immediate plans to integrate GeoSynth into the consumer facing version of Live Search Maps. Photosynth collections are already included in Live Search Maps in the U.S." That's cleared that up--though it seems a shame that there won't be a public-facing version of GeoSynth coming directly from Microsoft.