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The History of Virtual Tours

The Evolution of Virtual Tours and Interactive Maps Since 1994

Is a virtual tour of a college or university simply a journey through its’ buildings and facilities? How do you best tell the story of a complex educational institution to those considering attending? What is the proper role of the virtual tour in the overall college admissions process?

At CampusTours we believe that virtual tours are essentially about storytelling. Because colleges and universities are complex organizations with dynamic communities, each school needs to tell its story in their own way. For some schools telling the story of the institution in the course of a walking tour of facilities still works well. However, lately schools are reworking their presentations to appeal to the distinct interests of their visitors, including more content about the experience of attending the school and much more student commentary. As one student in a focus group put it "the buildings look great. But the buildings always look great. What I want to know is what is it like to go there? What’s it like to attend [the school] as a student?"


The Virtual Campus Tour Timeline

  1994 The first virtual tours appear. Most tours follow the traditional walking tour model, showcasing the institution through an exploration of its buildings and facilities.
  1996 Photographic Tours - Stop based tours approximating the actual campus tour are introduced. These tours contain text, photos, and in the most sophisticated cases, QuickTime™, IPIX™ or JAVA™ panoramic images.
  1997 CampusTours.com founded, begins categorizing virtual tours (see CampusTours in the WayBackMachine).
  1998 Photographic Tours with Guide Narration - Stop based tours narrated by a tour guide gain popularity. These tours are generally comprised of a series of photos with directional arrows giving users different choices as they navigate the campus. Audio narration for each "stop" is often provided by a tour guide, visually represented by a photo. In some cases a campus map is also present to provide the visitor with a sense of the layout of campus.
  1999 - 2000 Panoramic Tours - Panoramic tours exploded onto the college market starting in 1999. Panoramic tours are a good complement to the traditional walking tour, and give visitors the capability to immerse themselves in a college scene. Some panoramic tours offer an accompanying campus map, and others include narration. A number of panoramic image formats emerged introducing users to IPIX™, QuickTime™ and JAVA™ viewers.
  2001 CampusTours begins building virtual tours for colleges and universities.
  2003 - 2004 Video Tours - In 2003 the first video tours begin to emerge on college Web sites. Initially colleges simply provide a digitized version of their five to ten minute promotional video.
  2004 CampusTours Develops Juilliard School Virtual Tour - In conjunction with the Juiliiard School CampusTours constructs the first version of the CampusTours Multimedia Engine and creates the Juilliard Virtual Experience.
  2005 CampusTours Unveils MultiMedia Engine Virtual Tour Content Management System. The first version of the MultiMedia Engine supports fully content-managed tours comprised of photos, narration, music, videos, animation and interactive maps.
  2006 Themed Video Tours - Colleges begin to move away from showing each and every campus location, and instead refocus the presentation on the experience of attending the institution. The tours are often complemented by an interactive map that gives the ability to explore the campus.
  2007 InteractiveVideo Virtual Tours - CampusTours introduces InteractiveVideo (see InteractiveVideo Sample), a technology that allows universities to add interactive links within videos. InteractiveVideo allows institutions to produce shorter primary videos and encourages visitors to jump off to separate experiences within the video depending on their interests.
  2008 Day in The Life Tours - Colleges begin to emphasize student stories in telling the story of the institution. "Day In The Life" or "Year In The Life" experiences offer the visitor an inside look at several students daily lives.
  2008 Map/Video Coordination - CampusTours debuts the coordination of interactive map movement to specific points within videos. Map/Video Coordination allows institutions to coordinate diverse multimedia elements to tell a comprehensive story to prospective students and parents. This allows schools to highlight on the map the locations they are discussing in the current video. Map/Video Coordination was first implemented for The University of Miami Virtual Tour, and has been included on a number of other virtual tours like the Baldwin Wallace University Virtual Tour.
  2009 Student Commentary - Colleges begin to add student commentary to tours, augmenting official tour videos, topics and campus map locations with commentary clipped from students. (See Commentary Sample)
  2009 Photorealistic Campus Maps Emerge - As technologies permitting lush three-dimensional rendered landscapes became available, CampusTours was the first firm to apply these technologies to college campuses, generating Photorealistic Campus Maps. Photorealistic 3D Maps have since become an industry standard. (See Photorealistic 3D Map Samples)
  2010 Mobile Device Tours - Colleges roll out mobile-optimized tours for devices ranging from phones and handhelds to tablets. (See Tablet Sample --- Smartphone Sample)
  2011 Personalized Tour Experiences - Personalized tour experiences alter the tour based on user choice and preferences, and report their session information back into Student Information Systems for detailed admissions tracking.
  2012 HTML5 Tours - As browser standards slowly evolve, 2012 was the first year in which all-HTML5/JavaScript tours became a truly viable option. (See HTML5 Tour Sample)
  2013 Custom Data Integration - The George Washington University was the first virtual tour to incorporate campus events and Twitter feeds for each building. (See The George Washington University Virtual Tour & Interactive Map)
  2014 and Beyond Advanced Admissions Lifestage Personalization - the capability for the tour to adapt not only to student interests, but also to each student's progress in their college search, providing tips and videos from current students tailored to the admissions lifestage of the prospective student.
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