Google has already conquered the world. Since its inception in spring of 2007, Google’s Street View application on their maps has allowed users to explore the real world through the comfort of their desk. Now, Street View has been expanded onto all seven continents – yes, Antartica, too. The internet giant is slowly filling in the gaps in their maps so that Google will one day have ground level images for everywhere on the globe. Oh, and you’ve been helping them. Geo-tagged photos from Flickr and Picasa now appear in Street View to fill in missing spaces or provide a more personal look at a place. The result is something really spectacular. Anyone with an internet connection can travel their world without ever leaving home. What’s my favorite way to digitally roam? Randomized map jumping. The Street View Gallery, and sites like MapCrunch and GlobeGenie use Google Street View to bounce you between some of the most picturesque scenes on seven continents. Watch the joy that is Street View hopping in the video below. It took less than four years for us to reach this point…where will we be in another four?
Not only has Google been forging new ground with their global Street View initiatives, they’ve been making their data open and available for others to play with and develop. The Google Maps API lets you create special applications and websites that use map features like Street View. Both MapCrunch and GlobeGenie are powered by this API giving them access to the hundreds of thousands of images Google has collected. Both sites function as a sort of randomized beauty finder – leaping you from one picturesque panorama to the next. You can limit the range of your jumps by continents, or nations, or just let the sites slowly pull you through a sideshow. As you can see in the video of MapCrunch below, the world captured in Google Street View is enormous, varied, and beautiful.
The power of Street View can do far more than simply give you beautiful slide shows of the globe. It can also make you laugh. Sites like StreetViewFunny display some of the craziest, daring, and embarrassing photos collected during Google’s Street View project. It’s the FailBlog of Google Maps. It’s funny if you like laughing at the random acts of others (I think our sense of comedy is based on little else, actually).
These sites that take advantage of Google’s global ambitions for Street View may seem silly…and they are. You don’t really need to randomly explore pretty photos, or laugh at ridiculous ones. Soon, however, I anticipate that we’ll find increasingly useful applications for the images Google is gathering in one place. Already we have sites like PadMapper, which comb through rental listings and put them on a map so you can see where there are apartments open. PadMapper specifically ties in with Street View so you can check out the exterior of an abode without ever walking out your door. There are many more of these sites that leverage Google Maps towards more meaningful ends, including Google’s own Election Center (find a place to vote), Dunnitori.fi (find a job in Finland), and TwitterMood (find out how people feel in an area).
As I’ve discussed before, digital maps are going to be one of the defining tools in the near future – combining the wealth of knowledge of the internet with the guidance of geography. Google StreetView, and all of the applications/sites that feed off of it, is a key driver in building up the utility of digital maps. Street level images make maps more helpful, and they ground the digital map to a real world physicality. The power of those images will be used in new ways to help us achieve daily tasks easier. At the same time, Google (and others like Bing) will continue to expand their Street View projects to more and more of the globe. I joke about Google conquering the world, but the truth is that the importance of digital maps is so great that locals will support their endeavors wherever they arrive. Right now towns in Germany are welcoming them with open arms. Street View and its competitors are going to help change the world by recording it. That’s pretty awesome.
[image credits: Google]
[source: Google Lat Long Blog]