In 2006, Google bought Panoramio – a fast growing user community with geo-tagged photos from around the world to add to Google Earth and Maps so people could better identify locations through photos people had taken. Google hired all three of its developers and they helped them scale up the system to handle a much larger load of users and photos.
The Panoramio site grew at a much more rapid pace and the resulting photos have been a fantastic resource for people throughout the world. Many of the original Panoramio members are professional or enthusiast photographers who have enjoyed the online community associated with Panoramio. Google helped add many more community features and contests were held for the best photos. Panoramio had a very happy and growing community for several years, myself included. I have contributed thousands of photos to Panoramio over the years while traveling to the far corners of the world.
As most people know, in subsequent years Google has grown a lot, and in the process they have been getting a more corporate, and less community-friendly attitude. They have been closing down (or using the most common Google word: “deprecating”) products on a frequent basis. Shutting down products sometimes is necessary with technological progress, but there are better ways to help communities surrounding the products to transition to alternatives. Google could be doing a better job.
Last September, Google announced they would migrate users off Panoramio and have them use a new Google Maps based photography site they had built called Google Views. Google said everyone would be moved off Panoramio in the next year (2015), and they assured the Panoramio community they would not lose key features. But, the new Views site did not have many of the same community features Panoramio had developed, and the community did not at all like the new site. Google’s Brian McClendon tried to address the concerns. But, a petition was created by the Panoramio community and over 10,000 users signed the petition within a few weeks. However, Google said little in response to the petition even after several months.
Suddenly, this week, Google announced: “After listening to community feedback about the future of the platform, we’re pleased to let you know that there won’t be any immediate changes to Panoramio. Instead of aligning the community with Views, we’ve gone back to the drawing board to work on a more integrated solution that supports you and your content directly within Google Maps.” So, they aren’t going to immediately kill off Panoramio after all. But, this probably doesn’t mean Google will repair features that have been broken with Panoramio for months. It’s apparent this supposed reprieve has more to do with the new Google Photos platform and the fact Google is now going to close down Google Maps Views (according to this post) and putting panoramic photos into the Street View platform. Meanwhile, Google has to continue to rely on Panoramio for its huge archive of geo-referenced photos.
So, although Google won’t be killing off Panoramio as planned this summer, there is no guarantee the stay of execution will be held off indefinitely (unlikely even). Let’s hope the additional time will give Googlers the opportunity to think of innovative ways to capture the essence of Panoramio – maybe even re-use the name – in the transition to their next photo mapping product. An even better step would be to at least address some of the problems with the current Panoramio product that has been plaguing the community in the meantime.