19 May 2010

The Geeky Joy of Planning

For me, much of the pleasure of travel comes from planning the next trip. The wealth of information available online just enhances that anticipatory pleasure. These days, in addition to getting the nuts-and-bolts info that was formerly available via Fodor’s and other travel books, I can use TripAdvisor to easily compare consumer reviews of restaurants, hotels, and tourist attractions. I can incorporate suggestions from viaMichelin.com to devise the perfect road trip through France. And I can use Google Maps and Google Earth to see actual images of places I’ll be visiting.

As I’ve been researching our destinations in Peru, I’ve come across yet another online resource that just knocks me out: Google has partnered with Panoramio.com to provide an enormous amount of user-provided photo content to their maps. Individuals can upload landscape photos of everything from the Eiffel Tower to their own backyard, and can quickly associate those photos with the specific spot from which they were taken. I’ve uploaded pictures of street scenes and tied them to the precise spot where I was standing when I took the photo. That content then becomes visible to anyone else who uses Google Street View to look at that location.

The concept becomes really fascinating when multiple users contribute similar photos. As you can imagine, we weren’t the first people to snap a photo of the pyramid in front of the Louvre. And as more and more users upload their pics of that same location, some sort of magic happens behind the scenes at Google Maps that overlaps those photos, creating a sort of montage through which you can navigate from one shot to another. It’s an incredibly cool effect: you virtually pan through a scene, and seasons change, night follows day, all sorts of transient factors happen while the primary subject of the scene remains unchanged.

Click on the screen shot above and you'll see what I mean: each of the arrow icons on the borders of the photo are links to other related pics. The round bubble-looking icons inside the body of the photo are also links that "zoom" to a similar photo taken closer to the subject. The large carat icons on the bottom of the photo move you forward and backward in the indicated directions. Finally, the big transparent trapezoid represents a the rectangular frame of another photo taken from a slightly different perspective. And to bring context to this whole wacky thing, in the lower right hand corner, a small map displays where you're standing and what direction you're looking. Initially confusing, this whole concept is quickly mastered, and allows you to virtually walk down the streets of Paris (not to mention a whole host of other locations).

Anyway, the point here is that there are all sorts of emerging technologies that enhance the whole experience of travel. We’ve arranged lodging in the tiny village of Ollantaytambo, Peru and reserved seats on the train to Machu Picchu, all without lifting a finger off our keyboard. Pretty amazing, and pretty darn fun.

No comments: