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Google Australia has built a way to explore businesses through virtual reality

Rick’s Diner owner Ben Jamieson.

Google is trying to get small businesses online and it’s been sending execs all around Australia to make it happen.

Along the journey, Google Australia’s Creative Lab director Tom Uglow and his team came up with an epic way to showcase small businesses. Using 360-degree photography, the team has created a virtual reality which lets people see inside a business.

Called Storysphere, it users the accelerometer in your phone to take you around a space. Users can also trigger audio and hear about the company.

The technology has been completely developed from the Australian office in the company’s Creative Lab. It also works with the company’s virtual reality viewer Google Cardboard, but the team has been able to replicate about 90% of that experience on a screen.

“In the past, virtual reality has been out of reach for most people. Google Cardboard is our attempt to make it more accessible – and fun,” Uglow said.

A screenshot of the tour of Sebachi from Storysphere.

“We created Storyspheres by adapting the existing Google cardboard tech, and adding sound. Virtual reality is already an immersive experience – by bringing another sense into the mix, we are trying to recreate the feeling of being inside a small business.”

It’s an experiment which has only been done in Australia. The Google team has been to a bunch of regional centres including Dubbo in NSW, Frankston in Victoria, Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and Launceston, Tasmania. It’s also off to Perth next month and will visit Darwin, Canberra and the Adelaide Hills in the future.

“Storyspheres is just an experiment at this stage – but we are delighted people have enjoyed experiencing them. We met some amazing small business owners as part of this project and it’s a wonderful feeling to help show off their work,” Uglow said.

A recent Deloitte report found companies that were online were twice as likely to be growing and four times as likely to be hiring. The internet is a driver for the economy.

Google Australia head of small business marketing Richard Flanagan said the project was launched to help get small businesses online.

“Many have done an outstanding job of using the internet to find new customers, build their businesses and hire more staff – we wanted to make sure these success stories got heard,” he said.

“The internet has helped small Aussie businesses across the country make it big. It has turned a clothing shop in Launceston into an international exporter, a bakery in Dubbo into a tourist destination and restored life to a failing garage in the Sunshine Coast.

“Every day, I’m amazed by how local business owners are using the internet to find new customers and grow.”

There’s no plan to turn Storyspheres into a product but businesses can create a 360-degree view of their business using Google Business View.

Here are a few examples.

Rick’s Diner

When his garage fell on hard times, owner Ben Jamieson decided to reinvent his business as a 50s ­style diner for petrolheads. He used online marketing to draw attention to the new diner, and posted panoramic interior photos of his business on the web. Rick’s Diner soon became a destination for Sunshine Coast tourists, and he credits online marketing with helping him increase revenue and create 23 new jobs.

​Sue Lewis Chocolatier

Moving to Perth from London in 2011, Sue Lewis had 20 years of experience working with chocolate, having learned her trade under the direction of master chocolatier Paul Young. Sue crowd­sourced the funding for her business on Pozible, and was able to start creating her edible works of art­ but soon realised word of mouth wasn’t enough and decided to build her online presence using a mix of Google’s tools.

F​ishnTrips

Sandra Watt grew up by the sea. Together with her husband Stuart Maconachie, they bought a WWII era boat off the internet, and set up a fishing charter business on the Mornington Peninsula. Most of their customers come from searching online, and by clever use of online marketing, they were able to build a customer base that allowed them to keep doing what they love.

Mornington Peninsula Brewery

Following a late night at the footy, Matt Bebe and a mate set up Mornington Peninsula Brewery. When planning requirements meant the brewery had to be located in an industrial suburb, Matt despaired, and investors pulled out. But Bebe skilled up on online marketing, made sure his business could be found on Google Maps, and started using online advertising to attract people to the cellar door. Since getting online Matt has seen foot traffic to his brewery grow rapidly, helping him grow one of the most successful craft breweries in Australia.

Sebachi Clothing

Sebachi has been bringing the latest fashions to Launceston since 2002. But it wasn’t until 2010 that owner Lisa Tedeschi decided to take the business online – and the move has really paid off. Lisa says she has expanded her customer and now exports Australian fashion from Tasmania to places as far away as Belgium and Sweden.

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