Yesterday Björn Kolbeek pointed me to Photosynth of Microsoft Live Labs. It is a technology that stitches photo’s from different sources together to create 3D representations of actual locations. You would be able to fly through a 3D world, entering through a photo on any website and flying out to another website through any of the other photo’s that constitute the 3D rendering.

It was presented at the SIGGRAPH 2006 conference, which is being held this week in Boston, USA. Techcrunch also has an article.

The cool part of this app is not that the idea to create a 3D representation of something is new or unique. We’ve had panoramic virtual tours for quite some time already. What is unique though is that it builds on the multitude of contributions of internet users all over the world. Imagine it not only using all photo sites like Flickr, 23, and the like, but also each and every photo that is used on any site somewhere.

This kind of visual representation would also be another great and important building block in combining the geographic landscape with the information landscape that is the internet. In the video on the Photosynth website one of the suggestions of use, next to virtual tourism or checking out venues beforehand, is to be able to find out the exact location of a building you photographed but don’t remember where. Simply by ‘diving into’ your own photo published on Flickr, you would find yourself ‘inside’ the panorama stitched together from everybody’s photo’s of that spot. Step through the looking glass, if you dare. It also reminds me of the mirrors in the Mordant’s Need SF books by Stephen Donaldson.

And what if we take our imagination one step further? What if we use these 3D rendered locations as ‘wall paper’ for virtual worlds such as Second Life, or the VRML based Traveler. I would really enjoy being able to invite Jon Husband to the virtual version of my favourite local restaurant La Cuisine where we dined together in 2004, or to Elmine’s and my coffee and cake hang-out SamSam, or for beers at my preferred watering hole De Boemel, to have our Skype conversation, or my home office even. It allows me to share imagery and atmosphere from my daily surroundings, reinforcing our mutual perception and understanding. I can imagine Jon returning that favour by inviting me into his kitchen in Vancouver (where Earl stayed once too) for the next chat. See how extremely poor this paragraph is without the visuals that come with all these links? Imagine. Combine this all with presence indicators for people, such as used in Plazes, or bluetooth data as in Imity, and RFID tags for physical objects… It would certainly blur the demarcation of on- and off-line.