June 10th, 2007
When Google debuted their newest addition to Google Maps two weeks ago, there was much excitement in the air. The new “Street View” allows users to virtually explore the streets of cities like San Francisco and New York and offers 360 degree panoramas that appear as though the user is standing in the street. At first the buzz centered on how Google accomplished this feat. Like a lot of things that Google has recently done, this has been done before (although Google’s interface is arguably the best implementation of it). In the first quarter of 2006, Microsoft launched their Preview version of Local Live.com which allows users to “drive” through streets as if they’re in a car. A French Web site has offered similar functionality for what one person told me has been 5 years. And then of course there’s Amazon’s A9 which offered street views of businesses (more on that in a minute).
Almost immediately after Street View launched, blogs and Web sites popped up chronicling humorous images that Google’s Street View captured. In fact, to date, the only things I’ve been hearing or seeing about Street View are funny images or things like Steve Jobs’ house and car. To date, I haven’t seen an example of why Google Maps’ Street View is actually useful or a viable product other than the cool factor.
Amazon’s A9 service showed how a street view could be combined with online yellow pages in a manner that made business sense. When searching for a business in A9’s yellow pages, the search engine would display the business information as well as pictures of the business (so if you were looking for a small business in a strip mall, you could know what to look out for while you’re driving). Google Maps completely misses the mark on this. For example, search for “bank” in San Francisco, Ca. The result shows me the typical push-pin result view. To get to Street View, you have to push the Street View button which then loses the push-pin you were on. You then have to either drag the icon of the person or double click near the business you want to view (if you remember where it was) and then drag the camera around until you find what you’re looking for. A much more useful version of this would be to 1) display the storefront when in the business push-pin view and 2) be able to go into Street View directly from the push-pin. This is what Amazon’s A9 did and worked very well. Once functionality like that is build, one can “walk” down the street and Google can tell users what other businesses are on that block (and of course advertise to the end user based on that).
In its current implementation, Street View is almost a separate site, sharing only the overhead map view with Google Maps. Until all the features are integrated into one seamless application, I see little use for it except to find people picking their noses or in front of strip clubs.
Speaking of photos of people picking their noses or in front of strip clubs on Google, Privacy International, a “watchdog on surveillance and privacy invasions by governments and corporations” found Google last out of 20+ companies when it comes to privacy protection.