Virtual Tours on the Cheap: ThingLink and SeekBeak

posted in: "How To" Guides, Virtual Reality | 0

Today I’m going to share how you can capture 360 photos with the phone you already have, and then turn them into interactive tours, for FREE!

Who doesn’t love an interactive virtual tour? 360 photos can bring a space to life! You choose your view: spin in circles, look up, look down, zoom in and out. The best virtual tours are a series of 360 photos linked together, or that feature hotspots to learn more about what you are seeing.

I spent some quality time in 2020 house hunting. Many home listings now feature 3D tours – here’s an example of a 3D tour of a Texas McMansion. 360 photos give you more sense of what a space would feel like in person. They also indulge a person’s natural inclination to explore a new space. I love attending an open house, but I love 3D tours even more because I don’t have to go anywhere!

Educators have been using interactive virtual tours for years to allow their learners to experience a place they never could in person, like this tour of the Chinese city of Yangzhou in Google Expeditions.

And 360 isn’t limited to photos: YouTube offers a slew of 360 videos! I love this rollercoaster ride one from Seoul, no VR goggles required. You can click and move the video to look wherever you’d like!

Make Your Own 360 Photo Tour

Creating 360 Photos

The biggest challenge to creating your own virtual tour is figuring out how to get 360 photos of the space in question. You can actually create 360 photos using your own phone, no 360 camera required (though, of course, a 360 camera is going to produce much nicer photos!)

I use the Google Street View app on my Android phone to create 360 photos. Install the app and tap the camera button to get started. Here’s what the process looks like:

I captured a view of my home office. No need to publish your photo to Google Street View: the process captures your GPS location as well! If you publish you will share that publicly. The photo will automatically save to your camera roll. Send it to yourself via email or the Cloud to use it to create a virtual tour.

You’ll notice that the image I captured (below) is far from flawless. The app attempts to stitch together all of the images to create a photosphere and it’s not going to be perfect. Try it out a few times until you are happy enough with the finalized 360 photo.

Creating a Virtual Tour

There are several places you can create an interactive tour or photosphere with your fancy new 360 photo.

If you have access to H5P, that’s a great place to create a high-quality and open tour.

ThingLink and SeekBeak are websites that will let you create free virtual tours, though the options are limited for free accounts.

SeekBeak’s free account offers up to three free “snaps” – their name for the interactive photos you may create. I found the output to be somewhat unpolished.

ThingLink offers a robust free account for educators. You can create as many ThingLinks as you like, but total views are limited to 1,000 views. So if you’re posting it on a website with a lot of visitors, you might need to opt for a paid account.

Both services are fairly similar in what you can create. In both, you upload your 360 photo and add hotspots. You can add text, media, links, etc. as your hotspots. Link together several 360 images if you want to create a full tour and use hotspots for your users to navigate.

SeekBeak vs. ThingLink

I used my office 360 photo to create an interactive tour in both SeekBeak and ThingLink. You’ll probably agree that ThingLink looks much more sleek and polished. The only challenge I had with ThingLink is that I had to resize my photo to meet their maximum pixel requirements, but that was easy to do!

Check out my home office on both ThingLink and SeekBeak:

ThingLink Example

SeekBeak Example

What do you think? What kinds of virtual tours would YOU like to create?