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Harvard Square Turns Digital

Site to help visitors discover Square’s ‘nooks and crannies,’ business leader says

By Anna Kim, Contributing Writer

If you thought a walk down Holyoke Street without a whiff of decomposing food was pure fantasy, think again.

Thanks to a new partnership between the Harvard Square Business Association and Everyscape Inc., an online mapping company, Harvard Square is now available online—minus all its sensory excitements—as a ‘virtual world’ for web users worldwide.

The Web site was launched this week and offers online visitors an eye-level, interactive, three-dimensional replica of the Square’s streets and stores.

Harvard Square, which receives 8 million tourists per year according to Denise A. Jillson, the executive director of the Harvard Square Business Association (HSBA), is one of the first virtual neighborhoods in the nation.

Everyscape mapped San Francisco earlier this year and plans to release streetscapes of Boston and New York later this fall. And Viacom recently released an early version of a Lower East Side virtual world aimed at music aficionados.

Jillson said that she hopes the program will help businesses—particularly smaller, local shops—reach a larger group of customers.

With the help of the Web site, these future shoppers will be able to “visit” a hotel, café, or store by accessing the business’ storefront listing online, shown in 3-D panoramic photos.

The site will soon permit visitors to view the interiors of participating businesses as well.

“I hope people will realize that there are lots of little nooks and crannies to Harvard Square. It is not a linear place,” she said.

If stores want to participate in the program, which is linked off the HSBA Web site, they must pay Everyscape about $200 per year.

HSBA includes more than 300 dues-paying businesses, though Jillson said she had “no idea” how many businesses would participate.

“It’s pretty advanced technology. It would not be a requirement,” she said.

According to Everyscape spoksman Tim Inthirakoth, the company will ultimately develop a function that allows users to share their stories and opinions about real-life daily experiences against the virtual backdrop of shops and neighborhoods.

Everyscape, a Waltham, Mass.-based company, chose Harvard Square as one of its first online communities because the Square is “one of the most interesting parts of Cambridge with all of its sights and sounds,” said Jeff A. Brandes, the Vice President of Business Development for Everyscape.

Employees at local businesses yesterday were cautiously optimistic about the Web site’s potential to attract more customers.

“People already love coming to Harvard Square and this new idea would not necessarily attract more tourists, but it would interest the younger generation,” said Sharian N. Clarke, an employee at the Harvard Square Hotel.

“It would be a good way to familiarize oneself with the area,” said Andy L. Cote, an employee at Uno Chicago Grill. “If it were done right, it would be beneficial,” he added.

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