Viewing the insides of stores on Google Maps

Adding to its Street View capabilities, Google also will allow browsers to see inside some retail establishments that allowed Google to photograph their interiors:

A test program launched in April of last year was bearing fruit in a growing array of panoramic images taken inside businesses that volunteered to be part of the project.

“We’ve been seeing renewed interest in the past few days because, as promised, we’re getting more imagery online,” Google spokeswoman Deanna Yick told AFP on Monday…

Small businesses in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States have been able to invite Street View photographers into their shops or eateries to capture images then served up with Google online maps.

“With this immersive imagery, potential customers can easily imagine themselves at the business and decide if they want to visit in person,” Google Maps product manager Gadi Royz said in a blog post early this year.

My big question: will this actually bring more customers inside the shops? I’m skeptical: how many times would someone be wondering about whether they should visit a store, look up the interior image on Street View, and then make a positive decision. What if the image is actually a negative thing, perhaps due to the lighting (I wonder if they adjusted for this), outdated decor, or, for lack of a better term, a lack of “coolness”?

We could also ask whether Google’s efforts in these areas actually encourage in-person community. If given more information in general through search engines, images, and reviews (with Google recently buying Zagat), will people be more likely to venture out of their homes or away from their internet-enabled devices? Will they become overwhelmed with the choices (like Barry Schwartz argues in The Paradox of Choice) and be less likely to choose any?

In the end, Google must think that providing these interior images are going to help them make money.

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