Every once in a while some piece of technology makes me go ‘wow’. I’m pretty tech-savvy so it takes more than a power socket with USB sockets to make me sit up and listen. I’m sure there was something earlier that really impressed me, but the thing I regularly go back when explaining how amazing and accessible new technology can be is the series of hacks Johnny Lee has done using the Wii.
His most impressive hack turns the Wii console into a 3D head-tracking system and uses nothing more complex than some £2 infrared lights you can buy in any town centre tech store. Pretty much anyone who’s got a computer and knows how to download a piece of software (its easy, my 80-something granddad managed to download and setup Skype) can have a go at this. Imagine how much money and computing power something like this would have required 10 years ago! (If you really want to know then you could probably track backwards using Moore’s Law but thats far too geeky for now).
So what about this Photosynth thing? Well a little while ago Microsoft demoed a piece of software that would mash together publicly available photos of the same object into one big, zoomable photo. Most of the tech blogs (and myself included) thought it was pretty damn cool but wasn’t really going anywhere fast and eventually it would be dropped by Microsoft as a nice idea but pretty much pointless. But ever since the big M started up Bing and BingMaps as a rival to Google they’ve been putting photosynths onto the maps as an added extra. In addition to the montage technology they’ve just released an iPhone app that lets you build and upload your own panorama to the photosynth.net website (and if you allow it, BingMaps too). Now I love a good photo app, anyone who’s seen the number of folders full of just photo apps will attest to that, but I’ve never found a good free panorama tool. I’ve used a few and they’ve always been just a little fiddly or didn’t merge the photos that well so I thought I’d give this a go. A couple of test panos had me signing up for a Microsoft Live ID (something I really didn’t want to have to do) just so I could get them online and viewable off the iPhone (the panoramas aren’t viewable on an iPhone from anything other than the app so sharing them meant uploading). The app is easy to use, just point it at the area you want to begin taking photos of, tap ‘GO!’ and it’ll snap away every time it recognises another bit of the panorama. There is an exposure lock setting so you get uniform exposure across the photo (something I should have used looking at my test uploads). Depending on what you setup, it’ll upload to the photosynth website and/or Facebook, although how those panoramas are viewed in Facebook I’m not sure as I haven’t joined the two together.
So why the big intro? Well its simple ideas like this that make the internet and the things it can offer everyday users evolve. Imagine if every iPhone user made one panoramic photo of somewhere special to them and uploaded it. Just one. Suddenly there’d be 100 million little views into peoples worlds, the places they like, the things they see. Yes we’ve got Google Streetview and thats great for checking out the shops in that village you’ve been meaning to visit, but they don’t have views on top of towers, in train stations, museums or Bill’s backyard. Obviously all this depends on people getting involved and uploading what they shoot, but Instagram gets 3.6 million new photos per week so its completely possible.