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google business photosGoogle just announced a new service called Google Business Photos that lets users explore locations through Google products.

These business photos look pretty similar to the outdoor imagery that Google already collects through its Street View program — the crucial difference, of course, is that the photos are taken indoors. The photos will show up inside Google Place Pages, the location listings that Google unveiled last year.

Business Photos were demonstrated on-stage at the Social-Loco conference in San Francisco today during a presentation by Marissa Mayer. Mayer previously led Google’s search team and is now vice president of location and local services. The demonstrator who joined Mayer on-stage noted that when he’s looking for a restaurant, he has a hard time describing the ambiance that he’s looking for in words, but he can usually tell by looking at photos of the restaurant’s interior.

More broadly, just as Street View gives you a better sense of what a street or neighborhood feels like in a way that can’t be captured with normal map data, Business Photos should give you a sense of what it’s like to actually visit a store, restaurant, or other business. Business recommendation service Yelp also offers a way to include photos in business listings, but Google seems to be doing things more systematically — it’s hiring photographers to go to the businesses and take pictures. Businesses who want to participate can apply here.

Since businesses have to opt into the program, it probably won’t be as widespread as Street View, but it’s necessary since the photos are being taken on private property. This approach should also help Google avoid some of the controversy that has dogged Street View.

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