By Barry Levine / CIO Today. Updated April 23, 2014.
Having tackled the world's information and mapped much of the world's spatial dimensions, Google is now tackling time. Beginning Wednesday, Google Street View offers a view back in time.
In a post on the Google Maps blog, Street View Product Manager Vinay Shet announced that users can now "travel to the past to see how a place has changed over the years by exploring Street View imagery in Google Maps for desktop." The visual time travel is enabled through historical imagery from the Street View archives going back to 2007.
When a clock shows up in the upper left-hand portion of the Street View image, a user can click on it and move a slider through time to see the same place in earlier years or seasons.
Virtual Tourism Over the Years
Shet said that, in addition to watching buildings rise or be replaced, and seasons changing the scenery, users can employ the feature as a digital timeline of history. This could include the gradual reconstruction after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, for instance. A virtual tourist could, alternatively, view a specific road in Italy in different seasons.
Although the cool factor is definitely an attraction, this time travel may have uses that will only emerge over, you know, time.
For instance, legal proceedings will most likely call upon Google Maps' time travel on a regular basis in cases where real estate might be involved, or to revisit streets where crimes occurred years earlier. Similarly, real estate agents could create visual demonstrations of the changing nature of a given neighborhood. It's one thing to say that a neighborhood has been changing for the better over the years, but it's another altogether to show that transition.
Anyone interested in environmental change could also find such a feature useful, as it will document a specific area's evolution. A Street View of a beach, for instance, could well show the erosion of the sand from wind and rain over time, or the growth on a tree-lined road could show the results of planned arboriculture.
A Record of Civilization
Google's digital images could become the central repository of the world's environment, built and natural, complemented by satellite imagery from above. Travel agencies may well want to license the company's documentation of a particular seaside European town in varying weather and seasonal conditions, for instance.
Of course, those are only the relatively short-term applications. If Google can keep this up for years, decades, maybe even centuries, updating its image capturing of neighborhoods, cityscapes and rural scenes worldwide, it will have a record of civilizations' evolution.
Climate change's flooding of coastal areas, the revival of moribund neighborhoods, or the slow change in the character of a city are just some of the longer-term possibilities.
Of course, that's assuming that Google can capture these many images over years without running up against the kind of privacy issues that Street View encountered on its first excursions.