Things I have seen on Google Street View

My window to the world is a Dell P2411H digital display. Google, via its many Street View cars, has photographed millions of miles of roadways and made those panoramic images easily available online. I look at Google Street View, or GSV, every day. I take screenshots of things that interest me and post them on a Tumblr page. Over the past seven years I have posted nearly three thousand screenshots. Some of the things I see are fascinating but do not translate well visually, even in a cropped screenshot. Sometimes I wonder about the people I see photographed by the Street View cameras. Sometimes I think about them long after I have forgotten where on the map they exist. I have favorite places that I return to, over and over.

Hong Kong

A boy, no more than 10 years old, walking by himself, his face glued to his Nintendo DS.

 

Dallas

A restaurant called C’VICHE, whose manager I imagine ordering supplies from Sysco or some other giant purveyor of basic foodstuffs elsewhere in Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex and having to specify, insistently over the phone, “See, apostrophe, vee, eye, see, aitch, eee. Suh-vee-chay. No first e, though. No, I mean, there is an e, but it’s at the end. No, not two e’s though…Where the first e should be is an apostrophe. . . Like suh-vichy . . . . Fuck it. Kuh-vitch. Just call us kuh-vitch. Cavitch here.”

 

Bangladesh

Looking at crowds of people on the streets of Dhaka, I wonder does anyone in the United States know the names of any of these people? Can any non-Bangladeshi name another Bangladeshi at all? All those Chandnis and Meghs and Shamims and Sumons and their lives are totally invisible to me. What is their sense of their own place in the world’s history? What do they aspire to do in their lives? This image of them through the eyes of the Google Street View lens is my only view of them at all. And again I look at crowds on the streets of Lima and wonder at the masses of unknown lives and names that will never gain prominence outside of their own town, their own neighborhood or street perhaps. Hector Rodriguez? Jaime Saltillo? Maria Jimenez? Who are they? And this has always been the history of the world. Masses of unknowns. How much I will never know. Would I even want to know? Have I made a conscious choice to not know?

 

Botswana

The trees are low and the sun is relentless. Near the border of Zimbabwe is a border post with a sign stating “Let us keep our border clean”–as if Zimbabwe insists on officially littering and Botswana is reduced to begging: “please, let us just keep this area clean.” But I’m sure it’s just a nuance of their colonial English that means “help us” keep the border clean. Unless it’s some sort of racial cleansing statement. The border area itself looks as clean and well-kept as any in the US-Mexico border areas I’ve seen. There are some tin shacks just West of the border crossing that look like they serve as a de facto market and food court.

Arvin, California

A picnic in a park. Ten hispanic men in cowboy hats crowded around a single picnic table. An elderly white man on a mountain bike cautiously approaches them from the sidewalk.

 

Lower Hutt, Wellington, New Zealand

A store called Krazzy 4 Bollywood. I assume the second z is because they are truly crazy, I mean, CRAZY for Bollywood. Not even replacing the C with a K can explain how crazy they are about Bollywood movies. But then I Google it learn there is a Bollywood comedy called “Krazzy 4” and thus the store’s name operates as a clever pun as well as a signal to those in the know.

 

Rural France

A family walking hand-in-hand, each parent holding a child’s hand and a picnic basket, bypassing a restaurant, headed toward a pasture.

What I hate about the new Google Maps Street View

On April 29, look 2015, Google deprecated the “Classic” version of Google Maps. As someone who uses Google Street View every day, I clung to the classic version as long as I could.

On Twitter, @erasing asked me what I hated about the “new” Google Maps UI (and Street View) in particular. I gave him a brief answer there, but thought it might be worth spelling out in greater detail why exactly the interface for the Classic Maps was better.

I should say in advance that @erasing has created several Chrome bookmarklets that alleviate some of the pain of switching to the new Google Maps (for me, anyway). If you care deeply about the photography and imagery of Street View, you might be interested in these: http://scottdavidherman.com/gsv/

1. Classic Maps Street View had a built in  full-screen toggle. Now, you can get to full screen in your browser (Cmd-shift-F on OSX, F11 on Windows) but it’s no longer a feature of Street View specifically. Maybe this sounds like a minor thing, but I think it is one of the best selling points of Street View: how good the imagery looks, full-screen, on a big monitor.

2. With the new Google Maps, there are no leader lines or static arrows on streets—so  you often can’t tell which direction to click to move forward. Maybe this works OK on actual streets, but more and more Street View photography is off-road. Let’s say you are exploring the top of Enchanted Rock. In the old version of Street View, there were arrows pointing which way the camera moved, so you would at least know where to click (they would fade away if you didn’t move the mouse for a second). It looked like this:

E-rock2

The new UI combines the arrow and circle so that you have to move around to see if and when there is a line to follow. There is no way to tell where exactly to click. The giant X is supposed to be a target, but it also moves. In this case, it’s actually behind the arrow:

E-rock1

3. New Google Maps defaults to the “political” map view rather than the satellite view. Maybe there is a way to change this default setting but I hate it. I don’t understand why the majority of users would prefer a less realistic view of the world.

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The satellite view contains vastly more information than the cartoonish political view.

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If there is a way to change this default view, I’m sure it requires you to be signed into your Google account. Please comment on this post if you know how to change the default.

4. I could live with many of these annoying features, but perhaps my main complaint about the new Google Maps Street View is how much junk there is on the screen. They have added so much cruft and junk to the main view that it’s often difficult to see the main image. Scott’s bookmarklets are amazing because they instantly hide all this junk.

5. In the new version, I also think the blue lines that show where Street View imagery is are way too faint.

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Why make the lines so faint? There are some instances where it is so faint that it blends in with the background and disappears completely.

6. In the new version, when you drag Pegman over to the map and drop him into a blue street, there is this three-second, bullshit animation that is completely unnecessary.

So, in sum, I thought there was nothing really wrong with the Classic Maps and no need to make all these “enhancements” to the user interface. Maybe some of these are linked to the use of WebGL Maps imagery, but I don’t know about any of that nonsense.

However, I did discover that there exists a link where Google Maps Classic still works: https://www.google.com/lochp Does anyone know what “lochp” means?

 


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