Google Earth Photos Layer Changing, Losing Panoramio Photos

Google Earth message - photos layer is changing soon

The shuttering of geo-located photo sharing site Panoramio continues. It has survived as a faint shell of its former self in read-only mode for a while now, since November 2016. But it looks like the end is finally near. If you’re a Google Earth user, you may not even know really what Panoramio is, but this will likely affect your experience.

If you view a geo-located photo in Google Earth now, there is a good chance you’ll see the following message: “The photos layer is changing soon.”

Google Earth message - photos layer is changing soon

The photos that you can view in Google Earth of whatever neat place on the globe you are visiting have largely come from Panoramio for many years. It was a community of photo sharing enthusiasts who uploaded their photos and tagged locations, with consistent moderating. One result over time was a large collection of quality location-relevant shots pinned to the map and viewable in Panoramio, Google Earth, and Google Maps. Panoramio users (including me) gained a bit of satisfaction seeing their photos fill in the blank spots on the map and register views. And of course people using Google Earth and Google Maps gained the ability to see these photos, making those tools more useful and fun.

According to the announcement, those photos that have not been migrated to Google Maps will soon no longer appear. Those photos that were migrated should appear in the photo layer of Earth/Maps. Migration requires a Panoramio user to have linked their Panoramio account with a Google+ enabled Google account. We really don’t have any way of knowing what percentage of users did this. Some will want their mapped photos to live on, while others will want to just leave after being turned off by Panoramio’s closing.

Google has invited people to contribute photos to Google Maps with their Local Guides program, and those contributions are growing. Those appear in Google Maps’ photos layer right now, but not in Google Earth. Maps previously included Panoramio photos, but I believe Panoramio photos have already been removed from Maps. Google will likely switch from Panoramio to Google Maps for the photos layer of Google Earth during this change.

We will have to wait and see what that change will look like. I had expected some loss of quality because Panoramio really had a ton of good photos from people who considered themselves photographers (alongside a few amateurs like me). Maps will have a lot more cellphone photos. I think moderating them will be key. I’m not exactly sure, but I think Google hired moderators that reviewed Panoramio photos for inclusion to Google Earth. In the new setup, Google may be counting on having enough users that care about relevant photos on the map to keep the selfies and food photos from overwhelming the geographically useful photos.

I do see a lot of good photos from Maps now. There are a lot more 360 degree photospheres uploaded to Maps, and I wonder if those will appear in Earth. One major difference is that when contributing to Maps, you are required to link your photo to a marked point of interest. I believe this requirement will remove a lot of usefulness of the photos layer for undeveloped areas, parks, etc. because there is often no matching point of interest. As a result, I can’t upload many of the photos that I had with Panoramio so that’s why this is a part of my wishlist for Google Maps. The coverage around the world of the photos layer will also change with the different user-base.

Updated info in newer posts below:

30 thoughts on “Google Earth Photos Layer Changing, Losing Panoramio Photos

  1. Well, that really sucks. I knew Panoramio was going away and the photos had to be migrated, but I didn’t realize every photo now has to be mapped to a POI. So much for beautiful, remote areas being explorable by hiker photos.

    • Thanks Mark. Those are my thoughts too. I would like to see and post photos of places that don’t have a convenient POI. People like us are maybe overlooked somewhat because Maps is geared more to business listings and higher traffic places.

  2. Google does it again. Thanks for nothing. This will show people just what Google is all about. A horrible business decision that will turn off millions of people who enjoyed the opportunity to virtually visit places they could never reach themselves. And these are the same folks who are developing a self-driving vehicle! Lots of luck with that.

  3. This sucks. Panoramio and its access through GEarth was an incredible tool for researchers of several disciplines (archaeology, ecology, botany, geograpy, zoology). It was much more than a tool for virtual travelers. Google has made a very ugly decision. Have you become evil, Google?

    • fuckgoogle bing says:

      I couldn’t agree more. It was one of the most special tools for so many disciplines and potential disciplines. What a gigantic disappointment in Google as a whole. What was the point of deleting millions of important images of culture, environment, personal experiences from the internet? The only way I interpret it is like a punishment. What are millions of people being punished for? we’re already slaves to having out private information mined and stored by thousands of gigantic abusive corporations and now we can’t even enjoy seeing an image from somewhere else in the world? This is the worst decision Google has made. It’s making the world smaller, more closed, less accessible. with all of the shit going on on every continent, Google chooses NOW to deletes images of people and places from all over the world? What’s next? No more street view?? Definitely. If they sink that low……..I’m officially deleting my Google account permanently and I will encourage every single person I know to do the same.

      • I’m sure they don’t see it as punishment and instead as evolution of the product or service and their services as a whole. But yeah, I and lots of people are not happy about it. I don’t see them stopping Street View any time soon.

        There was a new post yesterday by a Google employee (about time) that said they are still working to migrate Panoramio photos. They are working to fix problems in the transfer tool and things have taken much longer than expected. There is some other good info there planned and possible changes. You should take a look –

  4. There won’t be any good quality pictures anymore because only way to upload pictures is by using your phone, great shame as there were some amazing pictures… I downloaded many of them from google earth, it showed me some beautiful places, well not anymore…

    • I agree that the quality of photos on the map may change and I’m worried it will be lower. You can however upload pictures from your desktop web browser as well.

  5. It’s a disaster. Panoramio images were a historical documentation of how different locations appeared in many places at different times.

    It has been a good way to find abandoned places…

    It should be illegal to destroy historical documentation?

    Is there any way to affect Google to change their decisions? Is there any way to contact Google and post my comments?

    After this change, almost all the pictures gone, there is no point visiting or using any kind of Google, must mean lost advertising revenue?

    • I agree with your sentiment, but the users own the photos, and a company can end their service if they wish to (unfortunately). I see the new photos layer in Google Earth has far fewer photos, at least in the places that I looked. However I think more may show up soon as they copy those from users who linked their Panoramio and Google accounts.

  6. Horrible decision by Google. Does anybody know what the new G Earth advanced image view in chrome will look like? Maybe they still makes use of the panoramio images?

    • They won’t use Panoramio images again. Users that had linked their Panoramio accounts to a Google and Google+ account will have their images copied to the user’s Google Image Archive in the next few weeks, and those will continue to appear in Maps if they already had. We don’t know how many or what percentage of users did that.

      • This is very sad indeed. Through Panoramio I was able to discover so many fabulous placesall around the world but it also was a very useful tool for work – I´m a geologist btw. All those geo-referenced photos are gone now. Photos can only be linked to POIs whereas google decides what an POI is. So even as a google maps local guide you won´t be able to create POIs for most of the places unless they are business related.
        What a shame!

  7. I just changed my google tab on my bookmark mark tool bar to duck duck go. I recommend itit or bing or dogpile. Hit em were it hurts.

  8. The loss of the extensive photo visualisation of destinations from Google Earth signifies Google’s shift from a provider of great tools to the same arrogance that has infected other large internet institutions. The offer of Google-centric alternatives to both photo uploaders and Google Earth users is alienating. Google cares about businesses and the money it derives. Well I don’t. And now Google Earth has less purpose. My advice to Google is to restore the photo layer else you’ll lose a big chunk of your audience.

  9. Yes, this really sucks. HMike you seem to be trying to be diplomatic about it. I will try to be as well. Maybe Google knows what it is doing, and time will repopulate their new photo layer. I don’t want to migrate to their web based version of Earth, but that will probably be mandatory soon too.

    Unwanted change seems to the norm to this cranky old man. All I can do is try to be accepting and kind in this new world.

    • Ken, I have a hard time thinking about how the web version of Google Earth could possibly replace the desktop version. The desktop version has a ton of useful features and the web version is extremely simple. Some of those could be added to the web version maybe but it’s probably not possible for others. I’m reminded of seeing Google Earth used on TV news programs and they create flyby animation videos for that. It takes some CPU power to generate those, and they come out with big file sizes – both favor computing locally with the desktop version.

      As to the photo layer, due to new information, I hope to see a lot more of the map filled in with the photo layer derived from Panoramio. Many will be lost for sure, but the migration is yet to occur it seems. We will see.

  10. I knew that Panoramio was closing. I joined the Google Accounts plus as suggested. Still, all my photos have disappeared from Google Earth. I don’t know what happened. Will they appear again sometime? I had dozens of them on there. Have I been left behind due to technological advances? Does my camera no longer hold any clout? I don’t take photos with my phone, so am I just going to fade away into oblivion?

  11. Having to link pictures to a POI is the biggest let down. So you can’t see where the picture is taken from on the map from what I can see. The photo database will grow rather quickly, but quality may suffer. Today’s phones take pretty good pictures so that’s not a huge problem and long as it’s moderated properly. Not have photos linked to coordinates is a huge fail.

  12. levent akpinar says:

    Ron, I think you hit the issue spot on. Before, you could take a virtual tour of nearly every corner of the earth and now, you’re reduced to viewing the handful of available photos which don’t really show much. I realize the commercial link has to bring in some revenue but, it really is a shame.

  13. Truly unfortunate for all of us. Most likely a money issue, too many pics to moderate. It used to be great for checking out areas, but now you get pics of the poi that are nowhere near the pic dot. Even if the posters included the info if all google will allow is say a lake that’s nearby what’s the point? I’ve clicked on many pics claiming to be the “lower falls” in Yellowstone Park that show anything but that in many cases. Maybe if posters knew this they could include some info besides their name or say with the pic that pops up where exactly it is. All we get for now is 360 cities pics some with a full 360º pan others just single stills. Why does the warning for the old panoramio come up if you click on the what happened to it link? There’s still a website for it. Anyway, disappointing move, even if you use street view it’s limited and much of it is 5 yrs old. And now Google is forcing a new email “look” on us, have they never heard “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

  14. I was also one that visited many places worldwide to see the photos that users posted. I did this because of being poor and disabled and that I love photography and many languages and cultures. I am not only saddened but highly angered and upset over this stupid action by Google. The ideals of the people these days are not those of thoughtfulness. I believe it is due to corporate greed and hate for people and the threat they seem to be to their corporation. Now I am at a huge loss and can’t showcase a history of an Island nearby as it has changed over the years.

    • Hi David, thanks for adding your note. I am glad to hear there were many more people that enjoyed exploring the world through the unique experience that came with the Google Earth and Panoramio combination. Google has not ever given any reason unfortunately, though they have updated the support thread about it very sparsely. I am still waiting.

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