When I’m doing preliminary research for a novel, the satellite images from Google Maps are always enough to spark my curiosity, and never enough to satisfy it. How would that field look from this road? Is it a hayfield, alfalfa, or scrub? Would deer hide in it or would rabbits? Or how about the city: would this section be filled with developments, community buildings, or government offices? Does this street allow two-way parking? One-way? None at all?
Now, with two new features from Google, I can finally satisfy my curiosity.
The first is called “street view.” This is a simple addition to Google maps. You may be aware of the different ways you can view a map – as a satellite image, terrain style, traffic overlay, etc. Now an additional button (labeled “street view”) allows you to look at select cities in 3D. You can literally view a place as if you are standing there walking around. This is no computer generated image; you can see real people, real cars. You can twist the image 3600. Look at the clouds, walk farther down the road, or glance at potholes near your “feet.” A special addition lets you change the time and day so you can check out traffic flow.
To test out street view, simply
1: go to maps.google.com
2: search for a location and then click the “street view” button
3: drag the little yellow man down blue-lined streets and watch his view load in the popup box.
If you still haven’t satisfied that itch – you want an overlay of a city, a feel for the architecture of a town, an idea of the wilderness of the Adirondacks – try Google Earth. This is a program that allows you to fly over computer-generated landscapes of the entire world. Important buildings are highlighted in blue, and you can click on them for comprehensive details about their construction and use. In the demo seen here, it shows you how to watch a “sunrise” and “sunset.” Finally, Google Earth also allows you to switch over to street view – yes, the one I mentioned above – and look at panoramic images of the places you just flew over in Google Earth.
Maybe you’d still prefer to visit it in person. But you have to admit, it’s pretty sweet.