Scott Hanselman

Is This Useful? - Google Street View

May 31, 2007 Comment on this post [19] Posted in Musings
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A while back I posted about interesting maps (actually in 2005!) and listed out all the interesting map sites. At the time, Amazon's was the most innovative because they had street level imagery. They've since shut down, but today Google Maps took it to the next level with Google StreetView.

Not sure why you'd want to watch a blurry video rather than just going there, but you can see a demo on YouTube if you like.

The embedded Flash has a nice draggable cylinder view like QuickTime VR, letting you see any angle stitched together.

The user interface is pure brilliance. Pick up the little yellow man and drag him, and his little feet float in the wind as you drag him round, until he's firmly planted on virtual ground again. A green arrow indicates which direction he's facing. Even arrow keyboard hotkeys work as they should!

Here's the real question - is this useful?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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May 31, 2007 3:41
This is most definitely useful for some people but on the other hand it's kind of scary. Just think of all the license plates and people that are identifiable. I think they may have some privacy problems with it but it's a great amount of material for the community at large to parse and search along the lines of the existing satellite views. I already saw a few positions that were removed because they were part of a crime scene. We'll see how this new tech is put to use!
May 31, 2007 3:43
Yes, I had concerns about license plates and faces also...I guess though, that we have no expectation of privacy while we're driving around. Of course, folks act like they are invisible while they pick their noses in their cars. :)
May 31, 2007 3:51
That's a great idea: ... it's free if you want it! Btw, I found the link to the crime scene...just move a position or two toward the cars and the data is "no longer available".,+san+francisco&sll=37.783638,-122.452519&sspn=0.007479,0.014591&ie=UTF8&om=0&layer=c&cbll=37.781965,-122.450769&ll=37.785792,-122.450545&spn=0.007479,0.014591&z=16&cbp=1,134.527972027972,0.593411135389219,1
May 31, 2007 4:15
Hmm, seems like it could be useful in the same way that Live Maps "Bird's Eye View" is useful. Lets you see what the place actually looks like up close (so if your driving by you can know what to look for). I think Live Maps' Bird Eye is actually better, and the 3D you can get in some cities is amazing. But Google is doing some cool stuff too, so I guess in the end I, the end user, wins!
May 31, 2007 4:32
Not trying to start a "my mapping website can beat up your mapping website" argument, but Microsoft did something like this more than a year ago: Unfortunately it seems they haven't made it publicly available or expanded it to other cities since it was first developed.

Is it useful? Meh. The people on the Channel 9 video make some arguments for how it is useful to be able to see buildings from street-level so you can use landmarks to find things, but unless you can provide street-level information for every city in North America with 100,000+ population, how useful is it really? If I can't rely on being able to use street-level landmarks everywhere I go, I probably won't use it at all.

You also have to consider the cost of doing this for every major city in the United States and the business case for potential revenue from that investment. Frankly I can't see this feature paying for itself.

Not to mention there are still places in the United States that don't even have good aerial photos available:,+fl&ie=UTF8&ll=24.555589,-81.803749&spn=0.002669,0.004034&t=h&z=18&om=1 I think their efforts would be better spent getting the features they currently have working better.
May 31, 2007 5:34
On the off chance that people want a place to post/discuss links of interesting StreetViews, I just created one. I put a couple links there already...
May 31, 2007 10:28
Oh wow, I hadn't thought of that. Someone is getting paid to look at every image google took (probably upwards of a million) and see if there is something to censor. They censored the "crime scene" as well as the image I've seen of a guy coming out of a strip club (there's a black square where I'm sure a sketchy photo would normally appear). Whatta job, whatta job.
May 31, 2007 16:08
I remember MS doing something similar before hand. But, why didn't they put it in Virtual Earth?? Maybe cos the javascript would bloat. What am I saying?! Virtual Earth is almost 600k (uncompressed, local scope obfuscation and minified).

That's my biggest fear as a map masher. These mapping APIs will just become bloated with 3d stuff that's totally useless for finding stuff on a map. The Map is a great usability metaphor, but I'd hate to see it suffer from bloated code.

I think these major mapping APIs are reaching a zenith for what you can do in under 300k in javascript. Any new feature from here on should be an optional javascript addon.

May 31, 2007 19:48
MS has had something like that for quite a while ( , seems more like a prototype thing so far, but I can definitely see it being useful in the near future
May 31, 2007 22:48
i live in NYC - which it appears as though almost all of manhattan is covered.

One thing that it would be useful for is when exiting the subway at a location you're not normally used to. Depending on the line and your sense of direction and how you exit the station, it can be rather confusing as to which direction to walk to get to your destination. Obviously, either someone needs a good memory or a printer for it to be really useful, though.

But, personally, i tend to work better on geographical directions instead 'walk/turn left at the big red building' insetad of 'turn onto 4th street', simply because 4th street either doesn't have a sign or has a sign the size of a tictac.
May 31, 2007 23:01
I must be a little nutty, because I'm not at all concerned about the privacy part. Like you said, Scott, you have no reasonable expectation of privacy out on the street. Nor can you expect your house to be blurred out on the satellite view of Google maps just because you didn't consent to have it photographed. (I'm STILL seeing emails going around with subject lines like "OMG! People can see your house on Google maps! We'll be robbed and beaten!")

I think this is really useful for road warriors, or guys like me who are always going new places. (Well it will be once it's available someplace I'm traveling to.) Being able to preview the place you're going will make it easier to find it and find parking.

Of course, it's far more fun than useful. I've already taken a virtual stroll down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan in an attempt to relive last year's vacation. :)
June 01, 2007 3:56
It's more interesting than useful.

What is the privacy concerns of showing license plates? It's just a snapshot in time.
June 01, 2007 6:22
I used it last night to find out the ph # of a restaurant I order from but didn't know the name of. Thankfully, they wrote their number on their awning. Today I found a few people around Berkeley that seemed to be watching the truck go by.
June 01, 2007 16:02
I add the best "Google Street View" here : (28 views).
June 01, 2007 16:05
I add the best "Google Street View" here : Google Street View (28 views).
June 01, 2007 23:31
Very useful.

My buddy is flying in next week to stay a couple nights, and I could email him the link to my house and say "Hey Brandt, we're the first house on the left, one block from the park on Pinehurst and Sunset Blvd."... and he could actually see ahead of time what the park and surrounding area looked like. I love this!
June 02, 2007 10:52
I found street level view at least somewhat useful... Stalk me if you love to Write Ttests First.
June 03, 2007 15:59
I added all the best "Google Street View" here :
June 10, 2007 20:18
LOL - here's a man caught picking his nose on Google Street Maps (posted on Digg):

Man caught picking his nose on Google Street Maps

Dang, that could have easily been me!

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.