The Number 1 App for Geographers?

A holiday, a little time and the chance to investigate an app that had been sitting in my ‘photography’ folder for a while.

As of early September this app has been relaunched by Google as Google Street View, giving it a much higher profile in use and search rankings. This could now be (formerly known as Photo Sphere) the new number 1 app for Geographers.

This is all the more so when considering that Google have announced that they are going to incorporate Photo Sphere into Google Maps, thereby radically improving the accessibility of the images to the public. [update – they have now done this as of early September 2015]

Why Google Street View is a serious contender for the ‘number 1 app for Geographers’ title?

  1. While nothing can beat first hand experience of a location in fieldwork, the chance to bring that location alive in the classroom (or where ever else) is surely the next best thing. A 360 degree image to rotate and explore (you can zoom in a bit) come pretty close to immersive learning.
  2. Linking an image to a place is a vital element in the Geographer’s toolkit. With the Photo Spheres being located and tagged to Google Maps via GPS, this is going to be excellent as well as accurate (unless you override it an assign your image to the wrong location, of course!)
  3. It’s quick and simple, yet if students are creating their own sphere they will be compelled to look all around them.
  4. You can set the app options so that the image is stored on the device until you are next on wifi to upload. You can therefore use the app at your location with zero connectivity (3G connectivity does work in around 5 minutes or so).
  5. It’s free and students can use on android smartphone as well as iOS device – they can upload to Google Maps using their GAFE (school managed) Google account.
  6. Sharing the images via URL in email or social media is built-in to the app – they can even be embedded in blog posts!

Overall, Google Street View does what it says. It produces generally excellent 360 degree images which are pin-point located onto a map and which can be shared with simple URL.

It’s a great tool in the Geographer’s armoury and hard to see this outcome being achieved in any other manner, People sometimes say ‘well, I could do that without going digital‘. Well, you can’t with this!

Any downsides?

  1. Perhaps the embed code clashes with the website theme sometimes – as in the case here with The Gateway Theme – hence you can see the image and the code (that’s annoying but it is a fiddle to change the theme right now, sorry!)
  2. It’s not quite a swift to create a 360 degree image as it would be using the 360 panorama app.
  3. Accuracy isn’t 100% – it can struggle with objects which are close by. Alignment of vertical lines in architectural images can be tricky and you do need to practise a little. Nevertheless, the overall impression is going to be good and it will aid memory of ;what is was like to be there’.
  4. Potential for conflicts with publishing images which accidentally include the faces of children who have specifically requested not to (this is always a problem but schools should have a cast-iron policy on this issue and parents should really be opting out of an automatic right to use and publish images, not opting in – if it’s still the latter with your school, I am afraid you are in the dark-ages!
  5. Students walking around waving mobile devices in the air might be a bit of a security risk – it depends where your fieldtrip is going to!



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