If you'd like to go on a tour of the world without leaving your laptop, you're in luck. Google's new Wonders of the World project is a combination of Google Maps Street View, Google Earth 3D models, and some really great picture and data resources to create a really rich, educational global tour in a virtual environment. This isn't a tourist shopping spree. The content is educationally oriented, so this makes a great summer enrichment activity for kids.
The World Wonders project includes 132 historic sites in 18 different countries, including the United States. Google would like to expand this, so it make include even more sites and countries in the future. Some highlights include Stonehenge, where you can get a lot closer than they let tourists travel by foot these days, the ancient Kyoto temples, Pompeii, and other ancient sites. You can also seen natural wonders like Yosemite National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or Australia's Shark Bay.
Each site comes with extra goodies, from amazing Google Street View panoramas to photos submitted by tourists, to 3D models. There are also extensive informational entries on each site provided by UNESCO and Wikipedia.
To gather pictures for this project, Google has relied on a combination of licensed, user submitted, and Google-gathered content. Google Street View uses a car with a special 360 degree camera mounted to the top, but in some cases they resort to a tricycle with a camera mount or even an individual with a backpack mount. It all depends on the vehicle accessibility of the area.
Google Wonders of the World is set up to encourage exploration. You can browse by theme:
- Archaeological Sites
- Cities and Towns
- Historic Sites
- Monuments and Memorials
- Palaces and Castles
- Parks and Gardens
- Places of Worship
- Regions and Landscapes
- Wonders of Nature
Or you can find sites by country location.
Google is partnering with several organizations to provide this site, including UNESCO and the World Monuments Fund. While Google claims that this aligns with their goal of organizing the world's information and making it more useful, it also aligns with their goal of softening some of the harsh criticism Google Street View has seen over the years. Street view is very useful for anyone trying to find directions and navigating by landmark, but it has been a lightening rod for criticism over privacy concerns. Preserving historical landmarks and providing educational content is an incredible way to make Street View useful, and it plays into Google's desire for expanded mapping of public places.
Think of how much more amazing this tour would be through the lens of augmented reality glasses.
Google Wonders of the World uses a variety of Google products in an interesting mashup. The primary products are Google Maps Street View, Google Earth, Panaramio, SketchUp, and YouTube.
Google Maps and Google Maps Street View use primarily Google-created content. Google sends out Street View cars for data capture and owns its own satellite for data capture. Panaramio relies on user-submitted content, and SketchUp and YouTube use a combination of user-submitted and Google produced content.
Google Wonders of the World is not only a technology showcase. It's also an educational project. It's part of the Google Culture Institute, geared toward preserving culture online. Google has provided lesson plans for various history and geography topics for each site in both primary and secondary education.
The educational planning guides seem currently geared toward students in the United States, but that may change as time goes on.