If you thought Google Street View's coverage was ubiquitous before, it's now staking out new territory inside museums.
Google Art Project provides virtual tours of 17 museums and art galleries around the world, covering 1,000 works of art. Each work supports panning and zooming, so you can examine brushwork up close, and users can create their own personal collections for sharing or viewing later.
From a technical standpoint, it works fairly well. You can use the keyboard or on-screen arrow keys to move between vantage points, and click on "+" icons near paintings to get a closer look. I didn't have much trouble getting around corners in the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art, and I could even get out to the street from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It's kind of like a first-person shooter for pacifists (I've been playing too many video games lately).
Google has gone off-roading with its Street View technology before. In 2009, Google revealed a tricycle for capturing hard to reach places, and added Street View-style views to the moon in Google Earth. The search and advertising giant has also patented the idea of selling Street View ad overlays on real life billboards.
But this is the first time Street View has gone indoors. Although Google Art Project appears to be a passion project for a group of engineers, I could see the concept expanding to more public buildings or other private entities that want to provide virtual tours, such as the real estate market or local businesses. The ability to enter buildings from street level seems like a natural progression for Street View (although it would certainly take Google "right up to the creepy line.")
For now, the project is just a simple way to enjoy some fine art. I suppose we can all use a bit more of that.