Technology, Travel

A virtual feast of exotic streets of India

What Google couldn’t do, WoNoBo has.

By Rajiv Theodore

NEW DELHI: Now the chaotic and the dramatic, the colorful and the exotic – some of the words that describe Indian streets – can be savored by the three A’s–anybody, anytime, anywhere. Yes, you guessed it right – the magic of the Indian cities is just a mouse-click away.

An Indian brother duo has executed what the iconic Google is still struggling to deliver – they have begun offering a virtual walkthrough of 54 Indian cities, initially starting with 12 locations at which was launched last week.

The cities that are now ‘live’ are — Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Surat, Jaipur, Costal Goa, Kolkata, Agra, Pune. The remaining 42 cities will be launched over the following weeks.

On the launch day, Tuesday last, the website appeared buggy with many of the locations in Delhi and Mumbai not opening. The company says the speed will improve in a couple of days as they are getting everything in place. A mobile version is also in the pipeline.

The site’s main street view service provides a map on the left side of the screen and the street view on the right (you have the option of having a full-screen street view and keeping the map as a small box at the bottom). You can click any part of the map and get the corresponding street view. You can look all around a point on a street and can click or drag on the street view to go down a street.

Google Streetview, a similar venture, failed to take off and has been mired in controversies over security clearances. Also, the US major’s service is limited to monuments under the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Chairman of the little  known Mumbai based Genesys, Sajid Malik, reacting to how he managed to do what Google could not, says, “We are an Indian company and had all the necessary permissions in place before starting.”

Working closely with the tourism ministry, the Indian firm is in the process of integrating maps with millions of pictures to record street level images.  For privacy, “people can request us to take down anything that they think will be detrimental to their Interests.’’

The company Genesys was founded by brothers, Sajid and Sol Malik in 1995. Genesys may also have the advantage of being a local company that’s hosting the data in local servers. The company has so far been in the services business, creating map content for others such as Navteq (provider of electronic navigable maps), Nokia and Bing, and was involved recently in creating digital maps of Dubai, Mecca and Medina.

“For street view, the government, including the defence ministry and the Survey of India, threw a lot of regulations at us. We painstakingly fulfilled their requirements, including not taking pictures in sensitive areas,” Sajid adds.

Under the brand, Wonobo also offers several other services. It offers a visual feast of the colorful and dramatic lives of how people live in different corners of the country and offers created by users as well as experts, showing locals where to eat, shop for and play.

Even local business interest is factored in as the city dwellers could use the platform to showcase their properties. For instance, a hotel will be able to have a walkthrough of its property linked to the city page. There will also be listing of businesses.

With the help of field staff, Wonobo has tagged some 10 million points of interest. That includes four million business locations. For many of the small businesses tagged, it’s their first web presence.

“Any merchant can mention his suite of services, show real time prices or available inventory, showcase interiors. One of our revenue sources will be based on such hyper-local engagement,” Sajid said.

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