Google Street View: For the Spy in You

from Sharon Odom-Fling 

Check out this headline from the front page of the Houston Chronicle: “Houston joins Google’s Street View”.

I just love Google. They really get how important the internet is to consumers and local business, and have always led the field in creating tools and resources aimed at helping to put the two together.

So of course I was delighted to read that Houston had been added to the Street View lineup and immediately went out for a stroll around town. Since we live in the suburbs and I work at home, this is something that I probably otherwise wouldn’t do. At least not today.

In case you’re not familiar with Street View, it’s a feature of Google Maps that displays pictures of city streets taken by Google’s car-mounted camera over the past year.

It usually focuses on the downtown area and major streets of a given city. So far it’s only US cities, but I have no doubt it will expand. Visit http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview/index.html for a quick video tour.

I fired up Google Maps at http://maps.google.com/ and clicked on the “Street View” tab and see that Street View is available in 9 U.S. cities to date: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Orlando and New York, Houston, Denver, and Miami.

I clicked on the little camera icon for Houston, clicked on the “zoom in” link, and there I was, a little gold stick figure icon standing in the middle of downtown Houston.

It takes a bit of practice to get used to moving around. It helps to look at the video first, as it shows you how to actually “walk” down the street. Of course, I rarely read the directions so I dove in and learned the hard way how to steer my little gold man around town.

At first I thought it was going to be like A9.com, the now defunct Amazon search engine that at one time offered something similar called “Block View”, which sort of graphically represented a neighborhood and you could “see” what businesses were nearby, sometimes with actual photos of businesses.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I know where something is located only in relation to another business. That little consignment shop right down the street from Kroger. The beauty supply place across from the post office. And so on.

So anyway, I roamed around downtown Houston for awhile, then decided to venture out to NASA’s Johnson Space Center where I used to work many years ago and haven’t been back since. It was so cool to zip down El Camino Real, passing intersections as I went. You really feel like you’re in a car! Once I got used to it, I decided it was better than A9’s Block View.

Of course, something like this automatically raises privacy concerns. If you happened to be walking down the street in any of those cities when the Google cam went by, your image could very well be in the Street View archives.

Reportedly there have been pictures of students sunbathing in bikinis, somebody’s car in a driveway, a cat in a window (one blog post said “Dang, it’s so detailed, I can even see he’s a tabby!”).

Of course Google is sensitive to the issue and will remove objectionable or sensitive images if the person is recognizable and asks for the photo be to taken down. To give you an idea of what kind of photos you can find, check out The Top 15 Google Street View Sightings.

Also this blog post gives links to many more: Boing Boing

Ok, your turn. Check out Google Street View and post any cool pics that you find!

http://maps.google.com/help/maps/streetview/

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