Streetview shenanigans

pw014-03About 10 years ago when I got my first digital camera to play with at work, I considered a project documenting London’s streets. The idea was that you would stand on a street corner and take a picture in each direction, and then upload it to a database with some metadata so that we could build a rich visual map of London so that if you were headed to say a bar or restaurant you could find a picture of the local area so that when you popped up out of the tube, you’d have a better chance of finding what you wanted.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do it, mainly because devising instructions for how to take your photographs and constructing a metadata scheme that could accurately but simply describe any street corner in London proved way too complex. Plus the web was a very different kind of place – this was an information retrieval system, not a social one. Oh yeah and forget GPS, who was strong enough or rich enough to carry a GPS receiver around with them? Nonetheless, it would have been cool, right? I think the early podwalks had a similar inspiration.

Now the smart people at Google have caught up with my brilliant vision 🙂

And (nearly) everybody hates it.

In my opinion, Google Maps Streetview is just a rich enhancement to a map. I have used it to identify places I was going (in Paris, France and Austin, Texas) to get a feel for what sort of neighbourhood they were in and to understand better how I might walk there.

I don’t understand the privacy concerns that people have. Assuming you’ve been (un)lucky enough to be photographed by a car, what are the chances of anyone who knows you seeing it? And in the event that you (or some top-secret piece of your property) are snapped and you find out about it, then you can ask for it to be removed. This seems to me to be way beyond the power we have with CCTV in that 1. We can see it. and 2. We can get it removed. It’s ironic really that when a private company does it, we get to have a say, but when our democratically elected councils or government agencies do it, we don’t even have access.

What do you lose by having your home or car photographed? (mine isn’t there incidentally, they haven’t got beyond the A24 in Epsom) I’m not saying it’s nothing, just honestly trying to understand what it is.

Yes, I can imagine it leading to an imagined worse outcome of the BNP list leak last year, with the list “enhanced” with links to pictures of the outside of each member’s house. But the mashups there were pretty well regulated, once the first few had been done, people realised what a silly thing it was to do and what a dangerous precedent it was.

Before it came to the UK (and by the way, it’s only in selected cities), I’d used the Parisian and Texan versions to look at places I was just about to go to – working out how to walk there without having to cross 10 lanes of traffic etc.

I’ve also used it to look at places that I may never get to see, like parts of the Northern Territories in Australia (can’t remember how we ended up there…)

And it also works well for showing people places I’ve been and explaining something visual.

And as Russell points out, it’s good for the nostalgic – Places I used to live that are just the same and places I used to live that are very different.

I’m also interested in what’s not covered – No great views of Buckingham Palace for example and great chunks of the West End are missing including Oxford Street and Cavendish Sq.