Point to be noted—as access to the Web in India as well as globally increases, more people are living online. Whether you are watching IPL on YouTube from your home computer, or connecting with friends via social media on-the-go, the internet is now part of everyday life. Digital tourism is also an innovative use of this medium.
Let us first look at the Google initiative. After bringing iconic global landmarks like France’s Eiffel Tower, America’s Grand Canyon and Japan’s Mt Fuji, among others, alive on the internet through its immersive visual walkthroughs, Google has now commenced work on putting 100 major Indian monuments and sites in that league. The internet company has partnered with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to create virtual tours of these places. On the list are the Taj Mahal, the Qutub Minar (which has already been photographed and mapped), Humayun’s tomb (next on the list), Khajuraho and the Ajanta and Ellora caves. The rest of the list is yet to be finalised.
Google Cultural Institute Director Amit Sood said, “We wanted enhanced and an active experience for our (virtual) visitors and not just mere passive viewing of the sites. And, that’s why we want to partner with agencies like the ASI, UNESCO, World Monuments Fund to source authoritative content—current and archival to enrich user’s experience.”
How it will be done is an interesting exercise in itself. A device called the Street View Trekker will be used to create these tours. It consists of a camera mounted on a backpack, allowing a cinematographer from the search engine’s digital cartography department to go into places that a Google’s Street View car is not allowed. Each monument will take approximately a week to be catalogued. Once filmed, the virtual tours will be accessible at the Google Maps and Google World Wonders website, to be viewed alongside the hundreds of tourist attractions around the world that have already been mapped.
Google Street View primarily features imagery taken on public property. This imagery is not available in real time and is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street. Despite this, Google has run into problems with Indian authorities in the past. Questions have been raised that Google photography might reveal sensitive details of security installations and defence establishments.
In contrast, WoNoBo.com seems to be on a firm wicket. Its promoter, Genesys International is a home-grown mapping firm. Not only that, it seems to have addressed all government concerns such as not taking photographs in sensitive locations etc. Sajid Malik, CMD, Genesys International, said “Decades of global experience in the geospatial domain have enabled us to build India’s first and most comprehensive navigation platform that also incorporates social media. “We are the first urban chronicle of today’s India, having mapped panoramic imagery of thousands of square kilometres and close to 10 million places of interest across the country. We also continue to update the platform. On one hand, this new media service will provide an innovative dimension for users to share stories and build communities; on the other, it will provide local businesses a unique platform to offer a plethora of services.”
As part of its strategy, WoNoBo.com has tied up with ministry of tourism’s Incredible India campaign for Walking Tours, a unique and exciting product that will enable users to navigate and route their way through cities based on a number of interesting themes. Users will be able to search, explore and share ‘points of interest’ across the length and breadth of the country. At launch, the service will be available for 12 major Indian cities and will soon be expanded to 54 cities.
WoNoBo.com also offers several other services. One, for instance, enables users to illustrate, using 360-degree views, the colourful, chaotic, dramatic lives they lead in different corners of the country. It also offers guides, created by users as well as experts, showing locals where to eat, what to shop for, where to take your children while visiting and a lot more.
Company officials inform that with WoNoBo.com, locations are no longer just pins on maps; users get full blown 360-degree views of destinations and much more. They can access, tag and review ‘points of interests’ that is, locations, hotels, retail outlets, monuments, parks, etc. and also view the interiors of several key locations, all powered by a database of millions of places.
Technology has truly made it possible to take a global tour and explore other points of interests from your armchair.