On EveryScape, Your Memo Marks the Spot

On EveryScape, Your Memo Marks the Spot


May 13, 2008 | Wade Roush

The folks at EveryScape in Waltham, MA, have been busy trying to live up to their company’s ambitious tag line, “The Real World Online.” At the Where 2.0 conference in Burlingame, CA, today, the startup plans to announce several useful upgrades to its online catalog of street-level views of 14 world cities, including a social annotation feature allowing users to mark up its images with personalized memos to other users. The company also has a new scheme for recruiting “Destination Ambassadors” and “Local Business Ambassadors”—photographers it will pay for their help documenting more cities and interior spaces.

If you’ve followed our previous pieces aboutEveryScape, you’ll recall that the company sends cars mounted with digital cameras down the streets of towns and cities, capturing several 360-degree views per block. These views are then assembled into an online database that allows Web surfers to browse any specific location, or to move from view to view, as if they were reenacting the drive.

On the whole, the service is similar to the Street View feature of Google Maps. But EveryScape, much more than Google, sees its collection of street images as the gateway to many kinds of geographically organized information, ranging from Yellow Pages-style business listings to Yelp restaurant reviews, Flickr photos, and YouTube videos. In some cities, EveryScape has even photographed the interiors of specific properties such as hotels and art studios and strung them together with convincing animated transitions, allowing users to zoom into the spaces almost as if they were part of a true 3D virtual world in the style of Second Life or Google Earth.

And today EveryScape is rolling out two major improvements to its site. One is simply a bigger, prettier view. The map formerly stuck on the right side of the screen can now be turned off, leaving more space for the photos. (That means EveryScape’s pictures are now much larger than Google’s.) The other is a new system that lets users annotate the images with their own information, from advertising and marketing messages to personal notes—say, between two people picking a place to meet for dinner.

One category of annotations, called World Tags, allow businesses to upload photos, videos, links, and other information. Say you went to EveryScape’s image for the corner of Rogers Street and Edwin Land Boulevard in Cambridge, MA, site of Xconomy’s offices. First you’d notice the big Waste Management garbage truck that happened to be parked outside my window the day the EveryScape cameras went by (see image at upper right). But we could also create a World Tag for that location, and if you clicked on it, a box would pop up containing, for example, links to stories, videos, or podcasts on Xconomy.

San Francisco’s Coit Tower, with a Scape Memo attached
Only businesses can create World Tags at the moment, and they have to work with EveryScape to do so. But there’s another category of annotations, called Scape Memos, than anyone can create and share. Attaching a Scape Memo to an EveryScape image is easy: you just click on the “Create New Memo” link, position the pointer over the right spot in the image, and type in a header and some content. You then get a unique URL that you can share with others via e-mail or instant message or publish in your blog. Anyone who clicks on the URL will be taken to a version of that image with your Scape Memo superimposed. You can even create a series of linked Scape Memos with “previous” and “next” buttons that will take you from one location to another.

My bet is that EveryScape users will find some imaginative uses for Scape Memos. For example, I’m a huge fan of the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo. It’d be fairly easy to create a series of Scape Memos showing the places in San Francisco where Hitchcock did on-location shoots. The next step, of course, would be to

insert the relevant clips from the film; for now, unfortunately, you can’t embed other media inside Scape Memos (the way you can with tools like Platial and Google’s My Maps) but I’m guessing that feature will come along soon.

The Scape Memo feature makes EveryScape part of a larger social phenomenon, the ongoing melding of the Web with real-world geography that Infoworld columnist John Udell has called “annotating the planet.” Indeed, EveryScape CEO Jim Schoonmaker says he takes the “Real World Online” motto quite literally. “What’s really important about EveryScape is not just the virtual environment, but that we also want the images to be the gateways to all of the other information about those places on the Web,” Schoonmaker says.

Local Embassies

At the same time, EveryScape is announcing a new program designed to bring new cities online faster. It’s inviting two-person teams to sign up as “Destination Ambassadors” who will be responsible for photographing all of the public spaces in their territories (say, Chicago, to mention just one city EveryScape doesn’t yet cover). These contractors will come to EveryScape’s headquarters in Waltham for two days of training and certification, then crisscross their territories by car, carrying laptops, portable hard drives, location sensors, and rooftop-mounted cameras.

In addition to earning an up-front fee, Destination Ambassadors will be entitled to a percentage of the advertising revenues EveryScape earns in their cities, according to Schoonmaker. EveryScape is also hiring “Local Business Ambassadors”—basically, assignment photographers who will shoot the interiors at businesses paying EveryScape for walking tours of their properties.

Companies on the scale of Google and Amazon have the dough to send out fleets of camera-equipped vans to collect street views. But for smaller companies with similar ambitions of photographing the globe, there’s little alternative to outsourcing. As Schoonmaker puts it: “EveryScape’s strategy is to empower the world to build the world.”