Last year, Google started going around taking pictures of the inside of stores, for what seemed like the indoor equivalent of Street View for businesses. Google has now announced the product around this, which it is calling Google Business Photos.
"That's kind of what it is," Google's Marissa Mayer said in an interview, about the product being a street view for interiors. She also that it's "easy to imagine" that they might be able to call upon the user community to scale the effort.
Businesses can apply here for a Google photo shoot. So far, the companies photographers are only visiting businesses in select cities in the US, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, though any business can apply. "Demand will help us decide where to send our photographers next," Google says .
"Just as you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't always judge a business by its exterior," Google says. "Interior photographs are a great way to show potential customers what your business is really like. By enhancing your Place Page, business photos will help your business stand out above the competition and get discovered on Google. Millions of users will be able to visit your establishment from the comfort of their own homes, or preview it to help them decide on a visit. Best of all, it's free!"
Google is starting with the types of businesses it knows are searched for most regularly. These include restaurants, hotels, retail shops, and other storefront businesses. While the company says it's open to other interesting kinds of businesses that users would "love to see," they are not currently photographing legal, medical, or chain establishments.
The photos will appear on a business' Place Page. Google is taking panoramic photos, which will appear on the page as single shots, but they may be stitched together into a panoramic view.
Note that Google owns all of the photos it takes. The company does say it will always give businesses the option to ask for removal, and users' own photos can be uploaded through Google Places. Google may also end up using the photos in other applications, besides Google Places, it says.
Given that Street View has come under a great deal of scrutiny for privacy-related issues, it's worth noting that Google addresses this with Business Photos as well. "Business photos capture nothing different to what a customer would see by visiting the business in real life," the company says. "We'll run the photos through our state-of-the-art blurring technology to blur out faces of people who appear in the photos."
Of course businesses often change the way their stores look, and you don't want your business presented on Google Places in a way that doesn't represent it properly. Google says it will "try to accommodate" you.
US locations where Google is currently sending its photographers include: Orange County, Phoenix, Bay Area, San Antonio, and St. Petersburg. All locations for the other countries can be found here.
If you apply and get selected, you will get a phone call from Google letting you know.