I've never had the chance to be in at the ground floor of the creation of a new kind of media before. But today I found myself watching a presentation of a really neat new technology which is now available for anyone to play with. Photosynth has the potential to provide a new way of displaying visual information and allowing you to navigate around it by combining multiple images.
At this point I was ready to yawn, in that I've played with photo-stitching programs in the past and found them to be OK, but hardly ground breaking. But what Photosynth does is a bit more than that. By analysing the content of the images, finding the same content in each and then building a "point cloud' that describes the position of these items in 3D it manages to take all your photos and combine them into a navigable scene that recreates the geometry of where they were taken. You can move in or out of the scene, go from place to place and get a really strong sense of being there.
There are some lovely scenes on the Photosynth site that show how this can be done properly, I thought I'd have a go at the university, so this morning on the way to the office I took around 130 pictures. I've not read the documentation, I just took loads of photographs trying to make sure that there was a bit of overlap between each. And I came up with this.
You can move around by clicking on the arrows, and also on the panes as they appear. You can also zoom in and out using the scrollwheel on your mouse.
Apparently the picture is 78% "synthy", which I think means that the system couldn't figure out where some of the pictures go. However, it is quite like being on campus, and one part, where I took a load of pictures of a flowerbed, does let you actually walk around the flowers and see them from different angles. With a bit more care, and a tripod, I reckon I could have got something really impressive.
Anyone can sign up for a Photosynth account, download the program and start building synths to upload onto the Photosynth site where you have 20G of space to share your creations with the world. Microsoft are hoping to build up a community of "synthers" - a sort of "Flickr you can walk around" and I can think of all kinds of useful things we could do with this. You could put a synth of your ebay items up, so that people can take an all round look at what you are selling. When your kids leave home you could take a synth of their bedrooms to remember them by.
I'm certainly going to get into the habit of taking along another little camera when I go out for "synth shots" and posting them up here. It is really easy to embed the synths in your web pages too.
Have a go with Photosynth. It really is great fun. And free.