The Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago that juts from the cold seas between Norway and Iceland, doesn't appear on some world maps. But as of this month, the verdant slopes, rocky hiking trails and few roads of the 18 islands are on Google Street View - and a team of camera-toting sheep helped get them there.
When the islands' tourism board decided that it wanted to get the company's attention, it knew it would need an unusual pitch. It also knew that its rugged terrain would not be traversed easily by those Google cars that ply city streets worldwide, snapping photos. So it strapped solar-powered, 360-degree cameras onto the backs of a few shaggy Faroese sheep and began uploading the resulting, and very breathtaking, images to Street View itself.
The idea - which the tourism board called "Sheepview 360" - was not such a stretch. Sheep are a big deal in the Faroe Islands, an autonomous nation within the Kingdom of Denmark whose name translates to "islands of the sheep." The islands' distinct breed is believed to have been imported by Norse settlers in the ninth century, and today about 80,000 sheep live there, far outnumbering the 50,000 people. Tourism official Levi Hanssen said most Faroese have some connection to raising sheep, about one-third of which are slaughtered for meat; the others are used for wool and dairy products.
And although all the sheep are owned, they roam freely - usually.
"It's not very easy putting cameras on sheep," said Hanssen, the content manger for VisitFaroeIslands.com. "We would just stand there, and they would stand there and look at us. You have to, in some way, get them to move."
Move they eventually did, and the tourism board soon was posting videos and maps of the sheep videographers' movements on its website. It held a naming contest for one sheep on the crew. (The winning submission: "Baaa-bra.") Locals and visitors were encouraged to share photos of the Faroe Islands on social media with the hashtags #WeWantGoogleStreetView and #VisitFaroeIslands.
It didn't take long for the media-friendly story to make its way to Google, which pronounced it "shear brilliance." Last summer, the company visited the islands and lent one of its eyeball-like Street View Trekkers plus some 360-degree cameras for human use. In a blog post, the former tourism board employee who spearheaded the campaign, Durita Dahl Andreassen, said those will be handed out to locals and tourists and attached to "sheep, bikes, backpacks, ships and even a wheelbarrow."
"We obviously couldn't map the whole country with sheep," Hanssen said.
This month, the Faroe Islands made their debut on Google Street View. Most images were captured by humans, ncluding roads and hiking trails. But the tourism board left out some spots to preserve a bit of mystery.
Sheepview was charming, but it was at heart a marketing bid - and a successful one, said Hanssen, who said it had a "PR value we could never have bought ourselves."