The final product of Google Street View Angkor was officially launched in Siem Reap on 3rd April 2014 with almost 80 international media outlets to witness. The day after, the Google team stopped by Phnom Penh for a Meet ‘n’ Greet session at Brown Cafe (Sothearos Branch). Armed with an array of cupcakes and cake pops, the team behind the massively intricate project reveal their sweetest treat yet for homegrown technology lovers: the immortality of Angkor and its temples’ glory for the world to savour, allowing more of the world to experience the beauty of Angkor through online means.
The event was kicked off with a short welcoming note from Google Senior Communications Associate’s Lib Leahy. “We want to allow more of the world to experience the beauty of Angkor,” said Rebecca Michael, the Head of Consumer Marketing for Google South East Asia, and followed with a demonstration of the interactive website, and highlighting features like the specific pinpointing of temples, pronounced imagery (which left no crack or scratch to imagination), and mobile compass function.
More than 90,000 images were captured for Angkor’s presence in the World Wonders Project, enabling a full virtual 360 degrees tour of the Khmer temples and the lush scenery beyond that. The team’s aim was to provide a rich and immersive experience for everyone who poses an interest in the sprawling temple structure that drew more than 4.2 million visitors last year.
Google also launched an exhibit called Angkor Life, available at the Google Cultural Institute (GCI). The GCI’s goal is to bring the world’s culture information online, and help people to discover the world’s heritage and culture (such as the Eiffel tower, and the White House). Countries that don’t have the means to create their own online resources can benefit from GCI’s assets.
“For Cambodians and others around Southeast Asia — those who may think they already know what Cambodia has to offer — this project will inspire trips to new and interesting places throughout the country that they may have never before considered,” said H.E. Dr. Thong Khon, Minister of Tourism at the first launch.
Indeed, the reactions were reflective of the awe one felt when a gigantic historical structure appears to be perfectly documented into a website application. The collection is garnished with extensive videos and information about the structures, art impressions of the older years, monochrome photographs from the early 20th century, and the accessible street viewer. A mobile version is also adapted for convenience, allowing the gadget to double as a compass when it borrows your direction and uses it in Angkor’s view.
It seems like Google has more plans in store for Cambodia as the team shared a little about their experience breaking into the local market and language barrier. Divon Lan, Google’s Next Wave Emerging Markets Product Manager, emphasised on the team’s objective of getting the Internet to more Cambodians and their optimistic achievements involving Google Translate and Google Map Makers.
In order to adapt the tools to the majority of the country, the Google team has been aiming for accessibility towards their products. For example, last year they released Google Translate in Khmer, last November Android was featured in Khmer, and Google Search, Google Drive, Gmail and the virtual keyboard are also available in Khmer. “We care about our users in Cambodia,” said Sarin Supheakmungol, a representative from the Google Cambodian Team.
They then thanked all the local volunteers who took all the pictures and helped put all those images online. “You will find that 95% of everything is done in Cambodia by Cambodians,” he said, “And we are only at the beginning of our journey.”
In terms of Cambodia’s digital initiative, Divon saw potential. “Cambodia is developing very fast as the Internet penetration is growing, but the online advertising market is very small. Google is not in Cambodia to make money, at least not this year, because what Google wants to do is bring the world’s information to everyone,” he said.
As social media is very important in Cambodia, what are the teams’ plans for Google+? “We know that social media is very important in Cambodia, and of course it would be interesting to have Google+ featured in Khmer. But for now we can’t tell anyone yet if there are any plans to also translate Google+. We will keep you informed,” answered Sarin.
Whether it is online or offline, one cannot deny the wonders belonging to Angkor. On one hand, preserving Angkor’s presence online would mean that data goes a long way into future years, retaining the knowledge of world wonders to maximise the potential in education. It also serves as a teaser of the physical state, never replacing the real structure, and instead allowing you to prepare yourself for the magnitude of its offerings. On the other hand, some may question the ethical need to condense content on the Web, cheapening the state of it, and turning away people’s need to see it for themselves up close. As we all know, the Internet has made everything so accessible from a screen, and we would not want the visitors to carry the same mind-set.
What do you think, is Angkor better online or offline?