There it is. After googling a business, you find — along with links and directions — a tab inviting you to “See Inside.” One click brings up handsome, wide-angle exterior and interior views of the store or office that you can pan, rotate and zoom in on — just like Google Earth.
You might think — if you think about it at all — that the owner did a nice job hiring a good photographer who can stitch photos into 360-degree views, then had his webmaster post them nicely.
You’d be wrong. As with all things Google, a very regimented, standardized tool runs the program they very boringly call “Google Business Photos.”
A screenshot of part of The Spotted Horse’s virtual tour. Clicking a circular arrow on the bottom images brings up the panoramic view. (Click or hover over to enlarge.)
To get those images posted with a “See Inside” link — available through generic search, Business Pages and clicking on a Google Maps icon — a business owner must use a Google photographer.
The photographer’s training process takes 6 months. The certification process is very rigorous. Mistakes made at the pixel level must be fixed.
Just half a dozen Connecticut photographers have gone through the long process. Westport’s Billy Scalzi is one of them.
A 40-year area resident, he was an institutional bond broker who owned 2 companies. He left Wall Street in 1996, to become a real estate speculator. Photography is Scalzi’s 3rd career.
His company is called Billy Shot Me. Using a DSLR camera — and the same technology as Google Street View — he takes Google Business Photos all over the state. Locally, he’s shot The Spotted Horse, Mumbai Times, Picture This and Volvo of Westport. (He’s also done all the rest stops on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. The owner is very proud that they’ve all been renovated.)
Outside of Westport, Scalzi has shot doctors’ and dentists’ offices — even a psychiatrist’s. (“He wanted that little balloon man in Google Maps,” Scalzi says.)
Scalzi’s fee begins at $350. But that’s the only charge. Google offers its service for free. And because business owners can embed the photos on their own website and in social media, they’re available to users who find them even through search engines like Bing or Yahoo.
On his own — and gratis — Scalzi is shooting and creating virtual tours of Compo Beach, Longshore and Grace Salmon Park. He wants those to be available to anyone who clicks their links on Google Maps.
Taking a virtual tour before you go — to a restaurant, car dealer or psychiatrist’s office — appeals to some people.
To some business owners too — though not all. “It’s simple marketing,” Scalzi says. “I’m amazed that half of all businesses in the U.S. don’t even have websites.”
Billy Scalzi’s 360-degree view of Picture This gives potential customers a great idea of what they’ll find.