An Analysis of the Website and Photoblog VirtualSweden

Laurie Borchard





Introduction

Today anyone can create a website or a blog readily available to anyone with access to the Internet. This means that people have to sift through even more resources to find exactly what they need. With the creation of personal blogs, websites and wikis, it often becomes difficult to create content that people actually want to view and to do it in a way that is unique and will draw readers or viewers in. Photographer Jonas Carlson Almqvist has created such a site with Virtualsweden. Virtual Sweden is a photoblog/website, accessible at: http://www.virtualsweden.se/, it was created by photographer and web developer Jonas Carlson Almqvist. The website began in 2003 and offers free, high quality, full screen 360° panorama videos. The following paper evaluates the website based on the following: authorship, content, functionality, special features and available reviews. It can be seen that Almqvist take on creating an open access collection of panorama videos is original, fun and leaves the viewer wanting more.

About

The creator of this site, as mentioned above is Jonas Carlson Almqvist, not only did he create the website, but all of the photography was done by him. The sites “about me” page does not offer that much information about him, such as his credentials. It simply states who he is and offers smaller images of articles throughout the years that have mentioned him and his work on Virtualsweden. He has won the Photo of Europe panoramic award in 2008 and his book Stockholm 360° was published in 2005. Jonas is well known in the photography world for this publication and he’s also known for his work with landscapes, weddings and sport. As for his credientials, the work speaks for itself, all of the videos are artfully done and the website itself is designed in a way that is attractive, easy to use and organized well. The website offers no mission statement and as mentioned earlier the “about me” page is lacking any real information about the creator, scope of content, or purpose of the site. It would be nice if there was a statement from the creator explaining or giving background on the project and also some information on how often new videos are uploaded or the site is updated.

Content

Despite the name of the site, there are videos from all over world, not just Sweden. There are videos from Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, United Kingdom and Denmark There are aproximately 384 videos total, covering 27 locations or “tours” as they are labeled on the website. Each tour, is a different location and each tour has about 10-20 different videos of that location. These locations include, the Louvre and other museums, different churches throughout Sweden and Europe, as well as historical sites and scenic sites such as the French alps. When you choose a tour or site, sometimes information about the site, such as location, why it’s important, its history, etc. are given, but some are not. This is a problem since some users will not be familiar with names or locations. The sites are organized by the location, and you can also search by popular videos, churches and recently added. All of the videos are extremely high quality that load fast. While you’re viewing, the shift button allows you to zoom and the video will stop and zoom in. The zooming image also offers high quality resolution and if it does adjust it, it takes just a few seconds for it to come into focus.



Functionality

At the top of the page, there is a menu bar that stays consistent throughout the site, of course except when you are actually watching a video. This menu has the following: home, about, panoramas, the book, contact, map and prints. The bottom of the page offers lists of the following: latest panoramas, popular panoramas and contact information. There are several ways you can search videos, the homepage defaults to a list of latest videos and a listing of popular tours, along with three smaller photos that offer extreme zooming. From the top menu bar under panoramas, you get a drop down menu offering a link to all of the videos, most popular and churches. Once you click on a video and begin watching it, because the video is so large on the screen, the menu at the top changes and is much smaller. In the upper left hand corner is a menu bar that is slightly different than what appears throughout the site, form here you can click on locations and it will give you a list of the videos by country. The map link that appears at the top menu bar gives you a Google image map of the world and of Europe. While you are viewing the videos, some of them offer maps of either the building or the location; these appear in the upper left hand corner of the video.

There is a search box in the upper right hand corner where you can enter a keyword or you can just click on the arrow and it will get you to an advanced search function. Here you can enter words into search boxes containing any words, a phrase and also none of these words. There is also a menu searchable by category and by type of content, such as videos, project, map, story, etc. The searching function didn’t appear to work that well, it was not that intuitive. I found that browsing by topics in ways mentioned above was easier. There are some social media links when viewing videos, such as Facebook, Digg, twitter, RSS feed and you can vote using Pano Digg

Special Features

The site offers RSS feeds, email subscription to updates and an app for the iPhone. As mentioned above the map feature within the videos is also nice since it allows you to get perspective as to where you are in a particular building or location. All the locations for a particular tour are listed on the map and given a number; you can then choose another video from the map or the list that appears below the video. What makes this website so unique is that the videos themselves are so incredibly impressive, it’s high quality, high resolution and they actually locations that are interesting and a lot of them are places I’ve never heard of, along with familiar locations. It would be very easy for someone to spend hours looking at all the videos. There is another somewhat comparable website called 360 Cities, however here there are just one videos per location or site, compared to Virtualsweden that will offer an in-depth look with 5 or more videos of a particular building, location, area, etc.

Criticism

Although there are close to 400 videos, there are only 27 locations. There are some inconsistencies with the content, not all the videos offer maps and not all the videos have background or historical information on the location. For someone unfamiliar with a location, they would have to use an outside source to see what it is and where’s it’s located in the world. The videos that do offer information on the location, the information is just a few sentences and very brief. For photographers viewing this site it might be useful to list the date, time and photographic equipment used when filming. As mentioned above, the advanced searching function is clunky and not easy to use. There are also lots of links to Google ads on the site, but none of them are pop-up and they don’t have distracting images. The ads just appear at the bottom of the videos and they are on almost every page. The ads aren’t that intrusive and are fairly easy to ignore while navigating the site. The about me page leaves a lot to be desired, it would be nice to have more biographical information on the creator and photographer. There is just one sentence stating what the website is and who the creator is. There are six small images of websites and articles that mention his work, but when you click on the image it just opens up another window to the “about me” page, which doesn’t really make sense and is not useful.

Reviews

Unfortunately, there are no official reviews of the website; the “about me” page offers images of articles and webpages that featured his work. Included in these are two articles from VR magazine that feature Jonas and discuss his website Virtual Sweden. One from 2008 shows the photographer working on a project and the other from 2005 is brief mention of him and his work. In 2005 Netscape named Virtualsweden the “cool site of the day” and also in 2005 it was chosen as “Yahoo pick of the day.” In 2009 Virtualsweden was also featured in Net mag. Since some of the articles mentioned in the “about me” page offer the full text to the features online, it would’ve been helpful to link directly to these or make the images larger so a viewer can actually read them on the Virtualsweden website. Outside searching using subscription databases subscribed to by UWM offered no relevant articles for review or discussion of Virtualsweden.

Conclusion

Overall the website offers great, interesting, visually appealing panorama videos from sites around the world, sites that a lot of people have never seen. The quality of the videos is remarkable, with high resolution, fast loading and impressive zooming capabilities. The colors are also quite vivid. The locations are interesting and appeal to people from different backgrounds. As mentioned above, it would be very easy to spend a long time clicking through and looking at different locations. It’s hard to believe that such a collection of panoramas is readily available and in such high quality. It allows people from all over the world to view a particular museum, church or mountain top without even leaving the comfort of your home. The quality is so good, it’s like you’re right there. Despite how fun the website is it would be better if it offered more information about the particular locations, maybe even offering outside links to relevant sources related to the particular locations/sites.