One year ago today Photosynth.net opened its doors. We'd had a technology preview out for more than a year, but on August 20th 2008, people around the world could try it themselves for the first time. And did they ever!
Propelled by massive blog interest and articles in all the national papers our upload capacity was quickly overwhelmed, and we spent most of the first day offline. Not an auspicious start! But, we handled the crisis pretty well... we worked through the day provisioning extra hardware and fixing a key choke point, and by 6:00pm Pacific we were solidly back on line. I'm happy to say that we haven't had any major outages since that first day, and because we communicated openly about the situation, we got some bouquets as well as the criticism we expected.
Millions of Photos, Billions of FLOPsHere are the key stats from Photosynth's first year. They're accurate to within a few percent, with the exception of the FLOPs number which is only accurate to an order of magnitude.
Highlights of the YearWithout a doubt, the highlight of the Photosynth's first year was the Presidential Inauguration on January 20th. Both CNN and MSNBC featured synths of the moment at which the President took the oath of office, and CNN gave Photosynth 20 minutes of airtime over a five day period. These were tricky synths to shoot and assemble. MSNBC used just a few professional photographers, while CNN augmented its professionals with its "iReports" community, and received more than 9,000 submissions from people who were at the inauguration, or watched it at home.
Along with PR successes like this, the technology itself has moved ahead significantly during the year. In January we released our Silverlight viewer so that for the first time people on the Macintosh platform could view synths. In April we made a big improvement to navigation by adding "highlights" and "path planning" so that the synth creator could guide their viewers through the 3D world. And in May we announced our commercial licensing terms -- we now have more than 200 different Web sites that are regularly embedding synths.
What's Next?We've been heads-down since May working on a couple of different initiatives. The first is a Silverlight 3-based viewer that we'll be releasing in the fall. When it ships you should see smoother transitions, less network chatter, and a whole new "angle" on viewing synths. For now I'll have to leave it up to you to imagine what that might mean :-)
The second initiative is great integration with Bing Maps. Our commercial Photosynth licensing announcement in May confirmed what was rumored before -- that Photosynth had graduated out of Live Labs to become part of Virtual Earth. For individuals and businesses, synths are becoming an important way to document the places they care about. Those places all live on a map, and what our customers have been asking for is to make this connection both obvious and magical. We're working on it!
Beyond these two initiatives, we have a laundry list of great feature ideas that our community has been asking for. At the very top of this list is the challenge of making synth viewing a more understandable, easier to use, experience. This has always been the toughest problem for a product like Photosynth which deals with totally unstructured photography. It's tough, but it's the problem that we need to solve in order to turn Photosynth into a useful tecnhology for the broad mass of Internet users.
Farhad Manjoo from Slate said that Photosynth was "the best thing to happen to photography since the digital camera" We think he's right, but our modest user numbers suggest that we're not quite there yet. If, through a combination of better rendering, better navigation, and better tools for the creators, Photosynth can reliably deliver truly immersive experiences, we'll have truly earned this title. It's an exciting prospect.
Happy Birthday to UsIn honor of Photosynth's first birthday we baked a cake. To make sure it synthed well, we put sprinkles and highly textured frosting on it, then sat the whole Photosynth team behind it as we spun it around. The result is quite tasty!
David GedyePhotosynth Group Program Manager