Microsoft Live Labs today released a free public version of Photosynth, which allows you to mesh a collection of photos into a 3D, 360-degree environment, which can then be embedded in any web page. “Synths constitute an entirely new visual medium. Photosynth analyzes each photo for similarities to the others, and uses that data to build a model of where the photos were taken. It then re-creates the environment and uses that as a canvas on which to display the photos,” according to Microsoft Labs. Photos are uploaded into Photosynth, which stitches -- “synths” -- them together into a 360-degree environment. A browser plugin is needed to view the montage, and the images are stored online.

The result is very compelling. You can navigate through the environment with the keyboard’s directional keys as you would a 3-D game, or you can navigate to specific points within the environment, clicking on “frames” -- the individual photos comprising the whole -- within the picture, zooming in or out. A donut-shaped icon allows you to rotate the image.

User-generated photoscapes are only one part of the equation. Photosynth is being used by National Geographic and the London Eye, and will be tied into MSN next year. “To create a more absorbing experience for its visitors, MSN will use synths of popular destinations and notable events in many of the places where static images are used on the site today.”

Photosynth as also been featured in an episode of “CSI: New York,” in which it was used to reconstruct a crime scene -- that's definitely a cooler launch than Cuil's.

Photosynth co-creator Blaise Agüera y Arcas was recently named to the TR35, Technology Review’s Top 50 world innovators under the age of 35, for his work on Photosynth.

By Mark Alvarez