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Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Google Street View = awesome

Google Street View has just been unveiled in Australia. It's pretty awesome. What impresses me is the scope of it - there's a map here which shows just how much of the country you can see. Of course the first thing I did was check out my house. I don't know what people expect to see when they do this - it looked the same as in real life. It was still cool to see my house though, with my car parked outside and everything.

What intrigues me most about Street View though, isn't spatial, but temporal. Since each panorama is taken at a different time as the Google cars drive down the street, you can see what other cars and people were doing for a minute or so. This adds a whole new dimension to Google Maps - literally*. Coming down the main street of my suburb I can see people wandering about or doing whatever, captured in a series of frames as the car went past. A man walks along reading a piece of paper. A van goes past in the opposite direction. An old fat bloke stands with his bag of shopping on the ground. A 4-wheel drive comes out of a side street and turns right, following the Google car down the block. A guy in a high visibility shirt unload stuff from a van. A Forester comes around the corner and parks in front of the pizza place.

Then, tragedy strikes! The next image in the set for some reason shows all different people and cars and weather conditions. The Google folks obviously came down the main drag twice, so they could also go down the avenue that goes by the supermarket, and for some reason as you come down the road in Street View, one of the panoramas (out of maybe 10 or 15) is from this other, second set of photos. Nevertheless you can continue on and see most of the first set. This may be a mundane scene, but the cool thing is that it's been preserved forever in four dimensions.

I recently finished reading a book called Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, by Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing fame. I highly recommend it. The novel (which Doctorow relesed for free online) describes a future where people can back up their memories, the way people back up their hard drives today, and if people are killed they can be restored from backup by having their memories and personality implanted into a force-grown clone. When this happens to the main character, Julius, included with his restored memories is a computer generated fly-through of the scene of his murder. That's what I was reminded of when I started reconstructing the Google car's trip around the suburb. A fly-through of a scene from more than half a year ago.

It's hard to care about privacy concerns when you have such an amazing toy to play with.

*I'm trying not to misuse the word "literally" here. I hate it when people do that. Time is a dimension, after all...


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