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How Host Your Own Virtual Tours

March 17th, 2007


Cherie Irwin mentioned that “…I’m not a Virtual Tour provider, but I am curious about what kind of options there are for building your own tours, hosting them and then posting to Realtor.com through their Picture Path program, without using a Big Box Virtual Tour provider or hosting program.”

Hosting your own tours is not difficult. There are several bits of technology you need to master above an beyond photography:

  1. You need to have your own web site with the space to post the tours. There are hundreds of places have you web site. I use www.vario.com and subscribe to their $19.95/mo hosting plan that provides 10 GB of web space and 400 GB of bandwidth. I’ve never come close to using up either limit but I only host tours for our own listings. If you host tours for hundreds of Realtors you may come closer to these limits.
  2. You need to learn HTML and a web site maintenance application so you can control what your web sites looks line. There are many good web maintenance/HTML apps out there but my favorite is Dreamweaver.
  3. You need to come up with a design for what your tour looks like and how it works. I think this is the crux of a good virtual tour. I’ve worked at this over the years but never been totally happy with a design. One of the major decisions you’ll need to make in this design is what display technology to use. The major available technologies are: QuickTime, Java, Flash and Shockwave. They all have their upsides and downsides. If you are only going to do slide shows Flash is probably your best bet. If you are going to do 360 VR you’ll probably want to offer several options and let the viewer choose their favorite.
  4. If your clients are going to want to post tours to Realtor.com you’ll have to go through Realtor.com to post Picture Path tours. I’ve never needed to post tours to Realtor.com because in our area the brokers sites are more important. However, the importance of Realtor.com varies around the US. Brad at buildatour.com says the posting to Realtor.com is not a big problem. Brad says it costs $19.95 to post a non-showcase tour to Realtor.com and it’s free to post a showcase tour. There is a Picture Path information page here but I don’t know how up to date is it.

One of the things that motivated me to host my own virtual tours is that it gave me total control over the content and allows me to put links to flyers, legal descriptions, floor plans, local sites and I don’t have to make a special tour to burn on CD for the seller and buyer. Sure, creating your own tours is extra work but the extra work is mostly setting things up. Once you have a tour template you can just copy it to a new folder on your web server and change the appropriate items.

Here are some of my attempts at designs for tours:

Lately I been doing mostly full screen 360 tours and Flash slide shows. I really don’t know how important 360 type tours are. They tend to be more complicated for viewers to figure out. The great thing about Flash slide shows is the viewer doesn’t have to do anything. The tour works even if the viewer does nothing.

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11 Responses to “How Host Your Own Virtual Tours”

  • I agree that design considerations are huge when it comes to “virtual tours” of the panoramic type. I really like Immervision because you can create both java and flash 360’s and tweak almost every parameter possible using a simple .xml file.

    With a little work and trial and error (and Larry’s advice of course) one could easily make a 360 tour that runs circles (pun intended) around ipix, cirlepix, realtourvision, etc. and all the other turnkey VT providers.

    Larry – how come my Immervision GUI looks different than yours? Did you make the little menu at the bottom left yourself?

  • Aaron,
    The reason you GUI looks different than mine is that mine is one that was the first one released about a year or more ago. I haven’t got around to upgrading mine to the new version that is in the purchased Immervision that has Flash.

  • I’m beginning to see the benefits of Flash over Java, more than ever before. I just bought a new laptop, and I opted for a PC over a Mac due to cost and availability at the time. The laptop that I had been working on was a PC, and I needed something that would work with several of the software programs that I had been using.

    That being said, the laptop that I purchased runs on the new Windows Vista OS. The problem: JAVA doesn’t run on Vista, or at least, not yet. Worse, many of the software programs that are available for building tours are not supported on Vista. Meaning, that Vista is a bad idea for RE photographers & tour providers, at least until all of the software vendors update their programs or provide a patch so that their software will run on Vista.

    I can’t tell you how frustrating it is when I simply cannot view a simple tour.

  • There’s been a long dark legal history between Microsoft and Sun (inventor an promoters of Java). The courts ruled that Microsoft must distribute Java (at least in WinXP… I don’t know if the ruling extends to Vista) and it must be Sun’s official version of Java. As a result the word “Java” at Microsoft is a 4 letter word.

    I discovered back when the Microsoft/Sun legal battle over Java was raging that our many of our clients that were Microsoft employees didn’t have Java loaded on their PCs and were not about to load it. This was when I started to use Flash as a display technology. Many tour providers provide an alternative between Flash and Java and sometimes QuickTime.

  • I just Googled “Java on Vista” and found this reference that claims that in fact Java works:

    http://weblogs.java.net/blog/chet/archive/2006/10/java_on_vista_y.html

  • I just noticed that the link above and all other info that I can find on the net are from late 2006 before Vista was released. If you have Vista you might want to download Sun’s latest version of Java from http://www.java.com so you have the very latest one. Sun may have fixed some Vista issues since Vista was shipped.

  • I’ve been to Sun’s website loads of times looking for something that will work. However, if there is a patch or some other detail that I’m overlooking, it is not an obvious one. I downloaded the latest version. Uninstalled it, reinstalled in several attempts to make it work. However, it just does not. I’ll read the article that you reference when I have a bit of time later, and I will let you know if it provides the answer that I need.

  • You guys may want to look in to this computer company I just came across…
    It seems like they make pretty good stuff. πŸ˜‰

  • Yes, I’m on my way back to Apple after 10 years of Windows. The prospect of Vista pushed me over the edge.

  • : ) LOL Aaron. I think I’ve heard about that computer company too.

  • Funny! Somehow, I should have known that I catch some flack for my choice in computers. I’ll leave that alone, though I would love to give you a lengthy explanation.

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