According to a new patent that was just granted to Google, the company could soon extend the reach of its advertising program in Google Maps to Street View. This patent, which was originally filed on July 7, 2008, describes a new system for promoting ads in online mapping applications. In this patent, Google describes how it plans to identify buildings, posters, signs and billboards in these images and give advertisers the ability to replace these images with more up-to-date ads. In addition, Google also seems to plan an advertising auction for unclaimed properties.
In Google’s example, the software could identify the marquee and individual window posters on a theater property and replace them with new information. Through this, a theater could promote a new play in Street View, even if the actual Street View image is completely out of date.
The patent describes a two-step process for identifying potential advertising real estate in these images. Google’s software first identifies interest points in the image (e.g. the edges or corners of an object) and then generates features around these interest points. Google can then augment this region of the image with a link or replace a part of the current Street View image with a new image.
What Happens When Somebody Wants to Put a Virtual Ad on Your Real-Life Billboard?
One of the most interesting aspects of the patent can be found in the following paragraph:
The link can be associated with a property owner, for example the property owner which owns the physical property portrayed. The link can alternatively be associated with an advertiser who placed the highest bid on the image recognized within the region of interest (e.g., poster, billboard, banner, etc.). Any portion of the geographic display image in which the region of interest is located can be selectable (e.g., hot-linked). For example, the image of the coffee shop can be hot-linked to an advertisement for the coffee shop.
This does open up some interesting questions. It makes perfect sense for the owner of a local coffee shop to advertise through this system, but in this patent, Google also describes an advertising auction. Does that mean that a rival coffee shop could also bid for ad space on the virtual image of a competitor’s store in Street View? Chances are this isn’t quite what Google has in mind, though it could definitely be a possibility. Instead, it looks like Google could potentially identify some billboards and banners in Street View images and then replace these real-life billboards with virtual ads from the highest bidders.