Panoramio founders try persuading Google not to kill site

Users of the site for sharing geotagged photos are upset Google is migrating to its Views service instead, and now the founders want Google to reverse course.

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Stephen Shankland
3 min read

Google's Panoramio offers people a way to explore the world through maps and photos. The founders of the service don't want Google to kill the service.
Google's Panoramio offers people a way to explore the world through maps and photos. The founders of the service don't want Google to kill the service. Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

The founders of Panoramio have launched a petition to reverse Google's decision to kill the photo-sharing site, a move that has triggered an angry response from loyal users of the service.

"For nine years Panoramio users have been carefully taking, selecting, sharing and manually geolocating 80 millions of photos for countless hours," wrote co-founders Joaquín Cuenca Abela, Eduardo Manchón Aguilar, and Jose Florido Conde in the petition. "They gave Google the right to display their photos in Earth and Maps. It is fair to ask Google to keep the Panoramio community alive in exchange."

Google said last week it will eventually phase out Panoramio, a site where people share photos that have been geotagged with location data so they can be browsed using a map-based interface. Panoramio was founded in 2005, and Google acquired it in 2007, but now the company is moving instead to a newer service called Google Maps Views.

The founders published the petition Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, more than 1,300 people had signed it.

But Google said last week in no uncertain terms that Panoramio will be unplugged once the company and the Panoramio community is satisfied with its features.

The decision shows that communities ultimately are the property of the companies that run them, not the members who supply their content.

Google declined to comment beyond its earlier statements.

Manchón Aguilar, though, detailed his worries in an email to CNET, calling Google's migration plan "kind of crazy":

Photos will be migrated to Google+ and Google Drive with a free bonus for an uncertain period of time. That's scary, because many Panoramio users have hundreds of gigabytes in photos. Even worse, Google announced that some key features for the community are not going to migrated: favorites, comments, forum. Millions of comments are going to be lost. Without favorites, you will lose track of your friends at Panoramio, it is like migrating Facebook without migrating your friends.

Panoramio users have published more than 80 million photos on the site. It's still not as well known as more mainstream alternatives like Flickr though, and its signature feature, geotagged photos, has become ordinary with GPS support built into smartphones and some higher-end cameras.

Google prefers its new Views page, which like Panoramio lets people locate a region and see photos taken there. Panoramio was nice, product manager Evan Rapoport said, but it was geared for landscape photography and therefore didn't meet Google's needs for a much broader variety of photos to help people navigate. Google shows the imagery on its Google Maps pages, in particular with the satellite view.

Google said the transition away from Panoramio will be gradual. But Panoramio users were upset at the news: online communities are built by their members and their interactions, in this case around a particular focus. None of that is easily transferred to a new site.

"I'm sure you are secretly dreaming of a new Instagram, but what Views will do is further dilute our photos with crappy pictures," wrote Hans Sterkendries in a forum post. Along with the complaints were discussions about moving to rival sites like Flickr or 500px.

Google Maps vice president Brian McClendon sought to defend the move, telling Panoramio fans that their photos could be migrated to Views -- though not the accompanying comments -- and that Google would give them extra online storage capacity.

The reassurances aren't sitting well with the Panoramio co-founders. In an accompanying document, they also fretted about Google's plans for Views, its promises, and problems like geotagged whiskey bottles that aren't useful for Google Maps users.

Update, 10:24 a.m. PT: Adds comment from Google and Manchón Aguilar.