The Google Art Project is the best use of the web I have seen in a very, very long time. GAP is a web interface that uses the Google Street View engine to let you explore museums. It looks very similar to your favorite first person shooter. The concept is dead simple. It is the executing that makes this app so fantastic.
It loads right into your browser, with no downloads or plug-ins needed. You select a museum from the list, which includes many of the best of the world. Moma, National Gallery in London, Uffizi in Firenze and two dozen more. The list is impressive and covers a big range of time periods, styles and mediums. From here, feel free to wander the virtual museum of your choice. The interiors you walk around were photographed with the same tricycles that create the Google StreetView visuals, and look excellent. Walking around is smooth, and the artwork is clearly visible. You can easily kill hours wandering around and taking in the best paintings in the world. The quality of the art is high enough that you can enjoy staring at it for a while, and not feel like a second rate sucker.
Here’s the real kicker. Certain works of art in each museum have been given what Google calls “The Gigapixel Treatment”. These are photos that are 14 billion pixels deep. You can zoom in so close you can see the ridges in the paint, and the individual lines of the brush strokes. Digital representations like this are clearly the future of how we are going to view art online from here on out. It isn’t the same as viewing works of art in person, but it’s pretty close, and absolutely enjoyable. There is also huge potential for students, and anyone who wants to increase their knowledge of fine art.
Once again, Google has taken an idea that many people have had, and created something truly wonderful. Using a combination of photos, access and creativity with an eye towards enjoyment they have built something that people will be using for years. The lesson here is that perfect execution can make any idea into something groundbreaking.