Google has experimented quite a bit with ways to make Maps more immersive, but no attempt yet may be as successful as its latest: Night Walk, a loosely guided tour through the streets of Marseille on one vibrant and beautiful evening. Night Walk starts you out in a small alley in the neighborhood Cours Julien and works a lot like Street View — you can look around in every direction and click wherever you want to zoom in or move ahead. In this case, a tour guide will introduce you to the city as you move along, directing you to look at art, landmarks, and gorgeous views, among much more, just like an audio guide in a museum. Narrators Julie and Christophe lead you across the city and point out places of interest. It’s immersive and educational, explaining the history and context behind the city of Marseille.
A mini-map in the bottom left-hand corner displays your progress through the city and, if you’re feeling impatient, you can expand the tool and click on the route to instantly jump ahead. Certain hotspots trigger YouTube clips, Wikipedia extracts and photo galleries, creating a multi-layered experience that’s far more rewarding and engaging than Street View on its own.
“The walk itself is augmented via the Google Knowledge Graph, which adds contextual data and information pulled from the vast semantic database at our disposal,” the company says.
“Mobile users are treated to mobile-first functionalities, which use the Google Places API to pull in local data based on their location. Everything lives and loads in the cloud, running on top of the Google App Engine.”
Many wonder how virtual reality headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus will impact how we experience the world around us. There’s certainly a great deal of potential, although Google Night Walk is proof of the potential for existing technologies too.
Night Walk’s goal is to make you feel like you’re right there in the city, and it’s fairly successful for an experience on your computer. The world has been photographed far nicer than what you’d find on the average Street View-road, and Night Walk even plays ambient sounds of the city and quiet guitars and jazz to build the mood. While you can’t explore the entire city, Night Walk does let you wander off the beaten path and down dark alleys to make new discoveries. Even if guided tours aren’t your thing, Google’s Night Walk through Marseille can be a lot of fun: you can feel the culture of the city, and you actually get to explore — not just spend an evening wandering behind a guide.