MapCarte 136/365: Night Walk in Marseille by Google, 2014


Click on the image to launch Night Walk in a web browser

Explore the sights, scenes and soul of the city. Of course, that might apply to any map of an urban area that is packed with dense, useful and interesting information but here, it’s the tagline for Night Walk, an immersive trail taken through Marseille. It’s actually a virtual tour with central characters, Julie and Christophe, who narrate and guide as you explore the environment. It deals with the micro-scale in the sense that you follow them on a trail through the vibrant Cours Julien neighbourhood.

This experiment in virtual mapping may not have worked as well in a mundane or somewhat featureless area but with interesting street art and various characters we meet along the way it’s an ideal medium in which to give the map user a tour. Here, the fact that the experience is imbued with characters all adds to the character and personality of the experience. The two are intertwined so we see some of the individuals and their own take on the place which translates into our own experience.

Technically, this is a Google experiment that shows the streets using 360-degree photosphere imagery, stitched together perfectly and enriched with photographs, video, sound and a plethora of interesting facts. It’s built upon a customised Google Maps framework and if you use the mobile version then the Location API is harnessed to provide you with location specific information unique to your own location.

Whilst being guided, you get a sense that you are experiencing something unique to you (even though you are not) and that you are seeing aspects of the environment that may be difficult to convey using a more traditional map. This latter aspect is certainly true and begins to show how maps can take fundamentally different forms to that which we are used to, in order to tell a story in a more useful way. You are entirely free to explore by zooming, panning and clicking to unlock detail and moving ahead much as you would with Street View.

With this experiment, Google are showing us that actually, the abstraction of reality may not be the future of the map. Instead, we may be able to immerse ourselves into very real, macro-scale virtual worlds that don’t just show us a place, but allow us to experience it. They are becoming masters of pushing the boundaries of mapping and their experiments at the very least open our eyes to how we might represent places in different ways to achieve different aims.