Google Street View: The Boxer’s BFF
By Lauren O’Neil
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself bedridden with what was either the worst summer cold in the history of infectious diseases (take THAT Bubonic plague!) or, a more likely scenario, the after effects of eating one gloomy looking sandwich from a truck stop in Michigan. Word to the wise: it’s never safe to assume that a greenish tinge means 'wasabi mustard'.
Whatever it was that was ailing me, it was ailing me something fierce.
I desperately wanted to escape the confines of my bed to go outside and play, but I could barely get up to grab a can of ginger ale from the fridge without feeling dizzy. I was bored, miserable, and growing less fond of the day's epic Golden Girls marathon by the minute.
So I decided to take a walking tour of Hong Kong.
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If someone had told me 20 years ago that in 2010 I’d be able to go open up my laptop and drag a little orange pegman around a world map to view real, 360 degree street-level images of neighbourhoods from Stockholm to Saskatoon, I would have… well, I probably would have said “Neato!” because I was a very open-minded 3-year-old.
I’m sure, however, that many other people would have said “Pish Posh Applesauce!”
It’s crazy, when you think about it – it really is. The time, the planning, the technology, the resources … the brilliance of using vehicles mounted with specialized multi-camera GPS systems to photograph so much of the world around us and make it accessible for everyone with an internet connection to experience ...
Crazier still is how rarely I actually do stop to think about it.
It’s easy to take a technology for granted when it’s embedded into your daily routine. On that note, can we please take a moment to honour the hair straightener and the toothbrush?
Back to Street View.
Sure, the service is cool – I can virtually walk down the Champs-Elysées without having to shell out for a plane ticket, I can look at my childhood home and creep on the neighbours (if they happened to be outside when the Google cars came along), and heck – it sure came in handy when I was looking for a place to live in Toronto. Being unfamiliar with the city’s many different boroughs, it was nice to be able to look at an apartment from the outside before driving three hours to find a shoebox wedged between a strip club and a fish market.But for us in the radio room, and for many reporters in all sorts of roles, I’m sure, Google Street View is more than a handy little hood-scouter or sick day diversion – it’s a fabulous tool that allows us to do our jobs well.
Unfortunately, we don’t always have the luxury of teleporting to say, Markham, when a house explodes to get details from witnesses (not yet, anyways… come onnnn scientists! I believe in you!)
One of the many internet-powered things we CAN do to get the scoop is pull up Google Maps and digitally sniff around the area.
This is particularly useful for new Torontonians like yours truly.
When writing a news story, it’s extremely helpful to know if, say, a fire is raging in a tight residential community as opposed to a storage shed in an industrial area.
A little while back, we'd received word in the newsroom that a protest was taking place outside the Israeli Consulate in downtown Toronto.
One of my editors asked me to find out what was going on. How many people had shown up? Were things getting out of control? Why were they protesting?
The what, where, and why were easy to track down - but police officers I spoke with would give me little over the phone as far as "how many people?" and "how long have they been out there?" were concerned.
So, I took to Google Maps.
A little bit of street viewing revealed that the consulate was in direct view of a trendy hair salon with floor to ceiling glass windows across the front of it. I looked up the salon's phone number and moments later was speaking with a receptionist who was so kind as to actually get three separate opinions from her co-workers as to how many people were out protesting (collectively, they estimated that there were approximately 30 people outside).
She filled me in on when the protesting began and even provided us with some colourful details about creative flags and chants from the crowd.
The protest turned out to be little more than a short-lived peaceful demonstration, but it was nice to know that there were 30 people quietly waving flags instead of 300 people throwing eggs before getting ourselves into a tizzy.
Not everybody embraces Google Street View - there have been some issues raised concerning privacy in the past - but so is the nature of this increasingly connected world we live in.
For all of its faults, Street View has given back to society in spades.
Disagree? Check out one of the many websites dedicated specifically to archiving particularly weird, cool or hilarious Street View captures and I'm sure you'll see the electronically modulated light :)