A very welcome and informative post from a Google employee just popped up in the Google Maps & Earth Help Forum yesterday.
“We are still working to migrate the photos of those Panoramio users who linked to their Google+ profiles. We are detangling some oversights in the transfer toolís original design and need to take our time in order to do it right. This has taken far longer than originally expected, so we sincerely appreciate your patience.
Once the migration is complete, you should see an improvement in the coverage and availability of photos in Earth, especially in out-of-the-way places. More on that below.”
The migration is not complete
The migration was supposed to have taken place a long time ago but it appears that problems prevented that. Recently the dismay and anger of users was definitely building. These concerns and feelings were voiced with comments to my blog posts, to the Google Maps & Earth Help Forum, and to Local Guides Connect. Users rightfully thought the planned change had occurred and their current experience was a result of that. We had no idea the planned migration had not completed. So it is great to have some signal of what was going on and that they are still working on it. There is still hope that many more photos will be saved and migrated and many more will appear for users in Maps and Earth than what we see today.
What is the current experience?
To start, a tremendous number of useful photos have been removed from the map in Google Maps and Earth with the disabling of the Panoramio photos layer. In Google Earth, tiny thumbnail images still mark the spot where those photos were located, but you can no longer open them. Google Earth’s Travis said “Although the placemark icons can still be shown on the map, the Panoramio site that hosted the actual photos has been taken down so the original pop-up balloons would show up empty if re-enabled.”
New larger circle thumbnail images mark the location of photos in the new Maps photos layer, which is meant to take the place of Panoramio in Google Earth.
In Google Maps, the Panoramio images do not show now for the most part from what I can see. I don’t see any of my old Panoramio images when searching the map. Perhaps Google disabled those because I actually thought they showed on the map previously. If disabled, I believe they would have likely done so because the images showed just a black screen when you tried to view it in larger size (more about that in this forum thread).
On the contributor side, I can see my old Panoramio images when I view my Contributions in Maps while logged in. They definitely migrated in some way at least. In this view, only those images that were snapped to a POI show a pin on the map. Others are there, but they are titled “Unknown place”. They also do not appear in my Google Album Archive. Google had stated that your Panoramio photos would be copied to your Album Archive once Panoramio is closed.
What does all this mean?
All we can do is be patient while Google sorts this out. But we should be vigilant to be sure the needed changes happen and participate where possible.
For Google Earth and Google Maps users that miss the quality images and wide coverage that the Panoramio photos layer brought – we just have to wait to see how things look once the migration is actually completed. From Travis’ post, it seems like that will bring back the much better coverage in Earth we had known before. What is unknown is how many photos will be lost and not migrated. And they do plan other improvements to the new photos layer in Earth as well. One of those might be to show photos located at where they were actually taken. For me, that is a must. And I hope for Panoramio-migrated photos, they will use the location set by the users even if the photo file itself didn’t have latitude/longitude coordinate attached in the EXIF metadata.
For geolocated photo enthusiasts that contribute photos, things are still uncertain. The only way that I know of currently to upload a photo with GPS latitude/longitude coordinates and without requiring setting a (possibly grossly inaccurate) point-of-interest is by using Google’s Street View mobile app. That only works for photospheres, not regular photos. Also, the method of viewing your contributed photos is still just plain terrible with a single column and infinite-scroll. That’s coupled with a map that shows pins only at POIs, and only shows pins for those photos you have infinite-scrolled far enough to pass.
“Why won’t all the Panoramio photos be migrated?
Many of you are concerned about the loss of the incredible, global Panoramio dataset and have asked why all of the photos can’t be preserved, the simple answer is that we are respecting the privacy and ownership of the original photographers.
We are migrating the photos of those Panoramio users who agreed to link to their Google+ accounts and share their photos with Google Maps. This allows us to attribute their photos using the G+ profile name they chose for making posts. This link is important because we can’t preserve the old Panoramio nicknames/pseudonyms and don’t want to unexpectedly expose people’s real names in the photo credits.”
There were around 100 million total photos uploaded to Panoramio by late 2016 (per Wikipedia). Lorenzo let me know in the comments that there were 135 million shortly before Panoramio’s closure. I think probably most of those were geolocated, and most were included in the photos layer in Google Earth, though I have no idea what portion. I also don’t know how many were snapped to POIs or how many were by users who linked to a Google+ account, etc.
I am glad to see the outcry that occurred with these changes. I’m not the only one. You’re not the only one affected negatively by this. And Google is hearing us to some degree at least. I can just say to please keep it up. Join the Google Maps & Earth Help Forum and post your thoughts. Join Local Guides Connect and post there too. We need people to keep these issues in the spotlight and nudge Google’s team in the right direction. We are counting on them to get the migration completed correctly! And I hope many more improvements can be achieved to get Maps and Local Guides closer to some of the functionality that we loved in Panoramio.