Yesterday the internet giant Google released Google Street View for the South African version of Google Maps online (just in time for tourists who might get lost during their trip to South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup). The project was originally launched in 2007 and only featured American cities and towns initially. Since then the Google Street View network has been expanded globally. It works quite simply (like most Google products). You just punch in address that you’re looking for in the Google Maps search bar. Google Maps zones in on the location and indicates the location with a placemark. If you click on the placemark it gives you a “Street View” option (if available) of the location. If you click on this option you get a 360 degree view of the area. You can rotate the view and explore the area like you’re actually walking there. Images on Google Street View are not real time though.
This Google Maps feature displays images taken from a fleet of specially adapted cars. Areas not accessible by car, like pedestrian areas, narrow streets, alleys and ski resorts are sometimes covered by Google Trikes (tricycles) or a snowmobile. Each of these vehicles are fitted with 9 directional cameras for 360 degree views at a height of about 2.5 meters, GPS units for positioning and 3 laser range scanners for the measuring of up to 50 meters and 180 degrees in the front of the vehicle. This is the reason why the imagery is so clear on Google Street View. The photo below is a screen capture of the Google Street View of Government lane, which passes the Union Buildings in Pretoria. Note that the vehicle number plates have been blurred out to protect the owner’s privacy. I’ve played around with this feature a lot yesterday and last night and I’ve found that some areas in rural South Africa (like Potchefstroom and my old home town Louis Trichardt) are not covered yet. I did not have a problem finding a Street View of a location in Gauteng or the Western Cape though.
Privacy advocates are up in arms about this Google feature. For this reason Google Street View has an option that allows users to flag inappropriate or sensitive imagery for Google to review and remove from the network. South African geeks (including moi) are raving about this feature because of its coolness factor. And I must admit, this is bloody awesome. But are we forgetting that we live in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the world? Maybe this is not such a good idea in South Africa? Only time will tell how this will pan out and if the crime factor in the country will lead to Google Street View being banned in South Africa. For now I’m still enjoying the coolness factor of it and waiting to see what will happen in the long run. If you told someone 15 years ago that they’d be able to see a view of their house on the internet by typing in their address in a search bar online they would’ve most probably called you crazy. Not so crazy now are we?