Microsoft recently released the Tech Preview of their Microsoft PhotoSynth product. All I can say is: WOW! This thing has the potential to change not just the way that personal photos are used, but rather, much of the way that the Internet is used now.
If properly executed, this could finally connect the Internet to the real world. Imagine any picture as a gateway. You could go to a company’s website (like Best Buy) and actually view their corporate headquarters, inside and out. Big deal, right? Get this – you could also find the store nearest you and, using a picture of the facade, zoom into the store and, using service features linked to the images, open a chat with the store’s customer service rep. You could read the hours on the door, walk around the store. You could see what the Manager’s Specials are. If the store is particularly aggressive, you could even see what is on their bargain racks. You could even see where the store is in the mall for those “Strike Mission” shopping trips.
Want to see what the Vegas strip looks like at night? Find a picture of it and zoom in. Servers would have to be set up to manage photo volumes in the same manner that they do html page now, but once the infrastruture is in place, you can go anywhere in the world, simply by looking at a picture of it.
But why stop with present day? Similar archives can be set up of anywhere, anytime. Want to see the 1964 Worlds fair? You can tour everything that there were pictures of. Naturally, these things are a little more difficult as those images would have to have their gps data figured out and analyzed by hand, but the potential is there.
I realize that this tool is only the very first in a generation of such tools and can’t quite do what I suggest, but the possibilities only grow as the technology matures.
Edit: Updated on 7/23/2012 to fix broken links