Google Maps takes it to the streets

New street-level view in Google Maps shows panoramas and offers zoom-in feature to read signs.Images: Google's view from the street
Written by Elinor Mills, Contributor
SAN JOSE, Calif.--Google launched a new feature on its mapping service on Tuesday that allows people to see panoramic views of streets and buildings.

Google Maps now offers a 360-degree view of many streets in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami, with other cities to roll out later, John Hanke, director of Google Maps and Google Earth, said in a session at the Where 2.0 Conference here.

If the street-level view feature is available, a button will show up on the maps page for the location entered. Clicking on it brings up a window with the view and directional arrows that can be clicked on to proceed in that direction. The window can be made full screen as well, and users can zoom in on street signs, bus stops and other details in the Bay Area. In the company's first foray into image gathering for maps, Google workers drove vans around the Bay Area for about a year and took pictures for the service, a Google spokeswoman said. Google partnered with Immersive Media for the images in the other cities, she said.

Google's street view

Google also launched Mapplets, a tool that enables developers to create mini applications to be displayed on Google Maps. Developers can combine information such as real estate listings and crime data with distance measurement and other tools to create their own embeddable mashups directly on the Google Maps site.

"One day we were looking at two of the original Google Maps mashups, HousingMaps.com and ChicagoCrime.org, and we realized it would be even more useful if they could be combined because most people wouldn't want to live near high crime areas," Thai Tran, Google Maps product manager, wrote on the Google Maps blog.

One analyst said Google is playing catch-up with its street-level view, but is pushing it further than competitors.

"It's a valuable addition to maps and complements the satellite view," said Greg Sterling, founder of consultancy Sterling Market Intelligence. "Microsoft has had this for over a year but hasn't rolled it out beyond Seattle and San Francisco. (Amazon.com's) A-9 also had it, but shut it down."

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft launched a three-dimensional version of New York at Live.com Maps and said it would roll out 3D views of Austin, Texas; Cape Coral, Fla.; Cincinnati; Indianapolis; Northampton, England; Ottawa; Savannah, Ga.; and Tampa, Fla., throughout the day. The maps show aerial views of Times Square, Central Park, Wall Street and other spots and include maps and driving directions, as well as yellow-page listings, consumer ratings and reviews for businesses.

Meanwhile, a start-up called EveryScape unveiled a preview of an interactive "eye-level" maps search site that is designed to show streets and points of interest, as well as the insides of buildings. Users will be able to contribute text and links to the site, which will launch with views of San Francisco in September.

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