LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Bored of seeing the same view day after day under lockdown? Why not try swapping it for one on the other side of the world?
That is the idea behind a website that allows people to travel the world virtually by sharing videos from their windows, from a New York cityscape to a verdant Indian balcony or a suburb in Belarus.
The Window Swap project was started by Sonali Ranjit and her husband Vaishnav Balasubramaniam after they noticed how much more time people were spending looking out of the window during lockdowns, and wished they could swap places with friends.
It has now drawn more than 2,000 submissions from dozens of countries from Cuba to Afghanistan, and more than a million views as people stuck at home seek to explore the globe.
“We realised, OK, we can’t swap places, but maybe we can swap windows and pretend that we’re there,” Ranjit told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, describing how the project started from the couple’s one-bed flat in Singapore.
“A lot of people seem to connect more with windows where you can see a bit of the inside and how people have decorated their houses … Where you actually seem to be eavesdropping into someone’s life, even if it’s not picture perfect.”
As lockdowns, work-from-home policies and travel restrictions leave many stuck at home, the website is one of several offering new ways to explore.
It invites people to upload a 10-minute video showing their window and the view. Visitors can click a button to see a random window anywhere in the world, from a rooftop view in Paris to rain pattering on trees in India or fields in Italy.
Users have hailed the site as a “soothing” escape, with some sharing details of favourite virtual views.
“Poignant for me to open up a window in Bavaria – my parents who I’ve not seen for six months are just beyond those mountains,” tweeted Kati Price.
“What really struck me was the types of people who were uploading,” said Balasubramaniam.
“It’s not just spectacular views of vistas and the oceans and never-ending horizons; it’s also backyards of these little houses, old towns, looking out into small narrow alleyways, and all this for us added so much character.”
Footage of people’s pets is popular, and sounds of everyday life, from birdsong to news programmes, are seen as key to giving a sense of life in a specific place.
The couple said they hoped to keep the site going as long as it remains popular, and may even try to adapt as countries start to open up.
“Maybe after lockdown they will want to post videos of their holiday windows or something like that,” said Balasubramaniam.
Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org