21 March 2009

Google Street View is silly and dange... Hey! That's me! Cool!

Google's Street View, which went live on Thursday, has been much commented on. It even received the writer's angle on Radio 4's Front Row last night.

But Google was not the first online snooper, in London at least, as a handful of people had been pointing out before Thursday. Seety.co.uk beat Google by several weeks with a very similar snapshot album. Google's service is better - more detailed pictures, easier interface, vaster coverage - but it's odd that nobody's mentioned Seety in the last couple of days. The news isn't what Google did, it's that what Google did is news.

Like everyone else I've been looking for me, and spying on neighbours and friends. One in Cambridge was amused to see his house snapped with the door open; odd to think that the determined zoomer can examine the colour scheme of your sitting room from anywhere in the world.

I'm nowhere as far as I can see, but my bike is (above right). It's parked in Lincoln's Inn Fields, evidently on one day in mid-July last year. It's the second from left, with the antler handlebars and double-light-bracket on the seatpost. (Compare it to the Real Cycling Street View picture of it, right.) I'm glad it wasn't caught doing anything indiscreet. Interesting how the number-plate blurring software has also targeted the lettering on the bike stand on the right.

According to the Google Street Map view page on Wikipedia, Google have data-gathering bikes that can go up car-free alleys, paths and lanes; but they don't appear to have deployed them in London. Gems such as Austin Friars, Leadenhall Market, Lincoln's Inn, the riverside path through the South Bank, and countless others, are still under the Google Street View radar.

Thank goodness. I rather like the idea that, with bikes, we still have secret and privileged access to a real world. If you want to see it from ground level, you have to come. On a bike.


  1. I was interested to hear about Google using bikes to survey places where their cars can't go. If you follow the links from that Wikipedia page you get to this photo. Not surpringly it's actually a trike, not a bike.

  2. And there are quite a few bike routes where a Google Trike would struggle mightily, such as the lovely rides along Regent's Canal. And there are certain London backstreets where anyone ostentatiously laden with expensive techie kit might hesitate to cycle down alone. They'd get great pictures of the thieves, though...