Late on Friday, Google announced in an email to users (and a page here) they would soon close down it’s geo-positioned photo sharing site Panoramio, removing access for its users to upload new photos on November 4th, 2016. Google had previously announced back in September 2014 that it would close Panoramio in favor of the now defunct Views. However, due to user feedback and probably evolving internal plans, Google announced in June of 2015 they would leave Panoramio running for the time being. So this new development was not unexpected as Panoramio had been in limbo before.
Panoramio users will still have access to their photos in Panoramio for a period of one year, so that means until November 4th, 2017. Also, Google says that their photos will be automatically copied to the “Google Album Archive” when Panoramio is closed, as long as the user’s Panoramio account is linked with a Google account. Furthermore, if that Google account is activated for Google+, eligible images and their view counts will be transferred into Google Maps and will show for the Google account holder if they visit the Contributions screen of Google Maps. There are also export options available at takeout.google.com.
With this change, Google intends to focus its efforts, and the efforts of its users, to imagery within Google Maps itself. In the email, Google promotes the adding of new photos to Google Maps and also promotes its Local Guides program, which provides some rewards for users who contribute in certain ways.
How do Panoramio Users Take This?
As you would expect, long time Panoramio users are not enthused about this major change.
As a long time user of Panoramio myself, I enjoyed its focus on geolocated photos, with photos uploaded there appearing in Google Earth and Google Maps. I enjoy geography and surfing around Earth and Maps sometimes is a really fun way to explore an unknown place, or even help plan a trip, especially with some photos to look at right there. I got great satisfaction in being able to upload my own photos someplace and having them help to fill in the empty spots on the globe! The community of people on Panoramio was also fantastic, with commenting on photos and user organized groups. However, I had been much less active there over the last couple of years due to these announcements.
What about Panoramio’s Replacement?
I have also uploaded some photos to Google Maps, including photospheres like this one. However, I noticed the community interaction aspect is nearly nonexistent in Google Maps. You can’t comment on a photo while viewing it in Maps. You have to open it in its Google+ version by clicking the place name for the photo in the small gray box in the top left, and then it opens the Google+ version of the same photo in a new tab, where then Google+ comments are allowed. There is also hardly any recognition or attribution to the photographer relating to your uploaded photos. You can view someone’s photo after finding it on Google Maps, and you can see their user name and small icon, but there is no way for you to find more info about the person besides just looking at their other photos on Maps when you click their name. I couldn’t even find a way to navigate to their Google+ profile. There is also no way for the uploader to include a caption or a title on their photo, and it’s difficult for one to even view their own photos with just a vertical single-file display. With Panoramio, you had all of those things – title, caption, comments, and a profile that let you have a little blurb and a link somewhere. And of course there was a much better way to view your own and other user’s photos. With Google Maps, it feels more like I’m providing Google with photo content for nothing in return instead of sharing geotagged photos with others.
And that was all on a desktop web browser. With the Google Maps mobile app and mobile website, I don’t actually see any way at all to view photos. That’s understandable due to what Maps is mostly used for, but any photo sharing site would never purposely leave out mobile functionality like that. Thankfully they do allow you to see these photos on mobile another way – by using Google’s Street View app. That is the same way they allow for contributing new photos via mobile as well. I created and uploaded my photospheres using the Street View mobile app. Photospheres are definitely cool by the way.
One major deficiency I see right now is that, so far from my experience, uploaded photos only show in Google Maps; they don’t show in Google Earth. My photos at Panoramio received many more views from Google Earth users than Maps users so that seems like a problem. When Panoramio is gone, where will photos in Google Earth’s Photos layer come from?
Perhaps photos in Maps will show in Earth in the future, but if so, Google will need to be careful not to allow a flood of poor quality photos into Google Earth. Panoramio had guidelines and a review process that ensured that only useful photos showed up on the globe in Google Earth, not to mention the great community of photographers there and the site were completely geared for that purpose.
Now I like the idea for the tiered incentives they give for Local Guides based on contributions. But that new incentive comes at the expense of a lot of other things. I love sharing my photos on the map, but it’s not as fun without interaction. There is certainly a lot of potential there with the tight integration into Maps. I will follow Google’s process and maybe upload to Maps a little more, but I will definitely miss the mix of functionality that Panoramio provided. I can only hope that Google adjusts their system with Maps over time to somehow make up for the poor community features, lack of attribution, and missing connection to Google Earth.