Thursday, May 26, 2011

Googling the Street View

Google may make armchair tourists out of all of us now that they are offering their Maps with Street View. This search engine allows you to enter an address, move a little figure onto the map and (if available) see a street-level view of that location.

Here's what a street in Paris looks like (click any image to see larger version):

You can also move around your location, street by street, block by block, and zoom in and around in all sorts of interesting ways. If you've never had the chance to explore a particular city or other location and/or can't travel there, this allows you to take a virtual walking tour of most places (there were a few places I tried to pull up that only offered a still shot, so it seems Google hasn't mapped every square inch of the Earth (yet).

I can't tell exactly how old these street views are, but I'd say probably at least six months but no more than two years old (if there is a note of exactly when the images were taken I didn't bother to look for it.) While faces and license plates are mainly blurred out, businesses, signs and other details are not. Here's a street where I used to go shopping in San Francisco's Chinatown:

I think this service is especially helpful for writers if you want to include a setting in your story that is a real place you've actually visited but haven't been back to visit in a long time. There was this spot out on the west coast where I used to sit and watch the sunset that I wanted to use in a story. Unfortunately I lived there many years ago, and as much as I'd love to go back there, I don't have the time or justification for the expense.

Relying on my memory, I wrote the location into the story with a lone bench, some rocks and the water. When I pulled up that spot on the street view, however, I saw that someone had put up a big ugly fence near my bench:

It takes some practice to learn how to use the different symbols and zooms to move around your street view, but I think it's worth taking the time to play with and learn. Plus if you can't afford to take a research trip, it may be the next best thing to being there.


  1. Thanks for this pointer, Lynn!
    I am probably going to be transferring out-of-state at the end of the summer. My WIP is structured around my hometown, and I was worried about losing some of the setting to this writer's sub-par memory.

  2. It is a very cool tool!

  3. I love street view, it is good for sparking discription.

    I love it mainly becasue it lets me visit places I've been on holiday or where I grew up and see them agian it's so nice :)

  4. Keita Haruka2:23 PM

    Now that never occured to me. What an amazingly simple idea!

    I wonder if they have Pripyat on street view...*wanders off, muttering to self*

  5. AnnaM.2:59 PM

    Great idea!

    On a creepy note I used this to check addresses of relatives and found out they filmed my now deceased Grandmother's house while she was alive. I can almost see her looking out behind the curtain--since I know she would be watching a person with a camera in front of her house. Gives me the chills.

  6. Street view is amazing. It always boggles my mind to think about how they get all of those images. Is it from satellites only?

  7. I've taken a lot of journeys with street view... and Google Earth. It is amazing to shift about a town in a foreign country, and to imagine what it would be like to live there. Good post!

  8. I admit to using street view. No DL and an income of $0 neccessitate it.


  9. Ah, my favorite way to wax the cat. :) I once street-viewed my protagonist's entire hitchhiked trip from Marietta Georgia to Rome Georgia. Took all freaking day but then I felt like I'd lived the experience somehow. And, to be fair, some of the random things I saw did give me ideas for details to enrich my writing that I might not have thought of--like a traffic jam caused by a horrible accident. :)