Google is prepared to alter the digital landscape of its Maps and Street View services by selling billboard and storefront advertising to the highest bidder. According to a new patent granted to Google (courtesy ReadWriteWeb), the search engine and online advertising giant may commandeer the rights of old signs and billboards in Street View and sell it to those seeking an upgrade, or, perhaps, a new advertising space to hock wares. Google uses the example of a theater updating its marquee to promote shows that aren't 18 months old (assuming said theater is still in operation).
Once Google identifies the "interest points" of an image, it will then morph virtual reality with a hyperlink or totally replace a previous Street View snapshot with a new one. The patent's language is clear:
"The link can be associated with a property owner, for example the property owner which owns the physical property portrayed. The link can alternatively be associated with an advertiser who placed the highest bid on the image recognized within the region of interest (e.g., poster, billboard, banner, etc.). Any portion of the geographic display image in which the region of interest is located can be selectable (e.g., hot-linked). For example, the image of the coffee shop can be hot-linked to an advertisement for the coffee shop."
This could be very cool, very evil, or very strange. The cool part is scoping out a scene, seeing a movie ad, clicking on said ad, and then watching the movie trailer all in one swoop. The evil part is the patent's potential to favor those with stuffed pockets and undermine smaller entities. Picture the indie coffee shop mentioned in the patent. Now picture Starbucks buying a 40-foot banner above said coffee shop and driving it into obscurity. The strange part has to do with the program's limitations. Imagine searching for a local steak joint and coming across an eccentric billionaire's glorified Craigslist m4f posting on the side of a skyscraper.
The story is also not new. In fact, this same scheme, in various forms, is discussed almost every year. Ads came to Google Local Maps in March 2006. Google added AdSense to its maps in May 2007. And, on a related note, in March 2007, Google purchased an in-game advertising firm to penetrate the videogame market -- an industry that expects to reach $1 billion by 2012. So Google has had its hands on our virtual space for quite some time, but never to this degree. It will be interesting to watch money exchange hands and glitzy signs appear out of nowhere, assuming Google maintains its "Do No Evil" credo.