Saturday, February 09, 2008

Getting Up Close and Personal with Online Maps

Once upon a time, you could go into almost any local filling station and ask for a road map of the state. They were free for the taking. The maps depicted borders between counties and other states. They showed roads, of course. And you could get an estimate of the population of towns and cities by the size of the map symbols representing them.

What you couldn’t see on those maps, which are still available but are far from free anymore, were actual photographs of buildings, houses, people, and cars. They were simply line drawings, as most maps are.

These days, maps are changing. Download a program from the Internet called Google Earth to see a 3-dimensional rendering of the earth. Then zoom in on almost any place on the globe to see not only line drawings of the standard borders and labels of various places, but real photographic images, taken from space, of rivers, roads, buildings, homes, cars, even people. Granted, it’s not in real time. Most images are weeks to a couple of years old. But, still, they are real images.

Now for something completely different: Go online to Google Maps, type in your street address, and then click on the Street View icon. If you live in Indianapolis, Greenwood, Franklin, Columbus, or anywhere along U.S. 31 that connects these cities, you can see a close-up view of your house, your car, and even yourself if you happened to be outside when Google’s picture-taking vehicle passed by one day last summer or fall.

Then, you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to take a virtual drive through your neighborhood. Again, it’s not live, but it’s the next best thing.

Maps have certainly come a long way from how they looked just 10 years ago. On Street View, you can turn your view 360 degrees to see in all directions. You can even point it up to see the sky or down to see the road.

Not only is it cool technology, it can also be very useful. Imagine you’re looking to buy a home. You can drive through the neighborhood in virtual reality before you decide to drive through it for real. If you don’t like what you see, you can save some gas.

Or what if you’re planning a trip to a city you’ve never been to before. You can spend some time in front of your computer screen driving through every street, looking at the landmarks, finding the restaurants or hotels, and getting to know the place before you depart.

Of course, it’s also fun just to browse through places you are familiar with just to see if you can get a glimpse of your friends or neighbors out mowing their lawns or maybe even sunbathing.

Of course, there are always the stick-in-the-mud disparagers who don’t like the new technology. Some claim it is an invasion of privacy. Others say it will become a tool for pedophiles.

Pedophiles can drive through the streets live looking for houses with kids. There is little added incentive to do it on the Internet, since the images are at least several months old. The kids may not even live at the same location anymore. And if people don’t want to be photographed while sunbathing, then don’t sunbathe in view of the public. If people don’t mind others seeing them on the street live, what difference does it make if their photo is snapped while they’re in public view?

It’s a fun, useful, and legal technology. Enjoy it. Go find yourself, and quit worrying about privacy issues. You have no expectation of privacy anyway when you’re in public, so get over it.

1 comment:

Matthew K. Hartman said...

The best part about it, Jerry - deciding on if Google Earth or Virtual Earth is better. Ten years ago, you wouldn't have even given a thought to 3-D renditions of maps being so readily available. Thank god Al Gore invented the Internet - we may not have any of this without him. Hah!