Tracing History with Google Maps

May 2, 2014

in Travel Tech

  • SumoMe

Google Maps has for some time allowed users to not only get a “bird’s eye” map or satellite view of a location, but also to spin around a circle, seeing the place from all sides, using the “Street View” feature, such as with this image of San Peter’s Basilica seen across the wide expanse of Saint Peter’s Square in the Vatican City.

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The latest twist on “Street View” is the ability to travel across time from seven years ago to the present to see if the scene has changed drastically or not at all.

Here’s what it looks like.

The Times Square, It is A-Changing

In this example, New York’s Time Square is viewed from a “time travel” perspective:

times_square_billboard

What makes this particular “Street View” eye-catching is that the Broadway plays touted on the billboards change over time.

The Four Seasons

Here, in Norway, we see the seasons change:

seasonalchange_norway

Very “cool” indeed, Google Maps!

“Map Static”

The problem with this new, whiz-bang addition to Google Maps is that some “Street Views” don’t change much over time.

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For example, the one of the San Francisco’s Ferry Building is nearly the same (mainly cars parked or driving on the street in front of the building) no matter which of the eleven points in time between November of 2007 and June of 2013 you pick to view.

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More, Please!

Unfortunately, the ability to go back and forth in time with a Google Map “Street View” isn’t available for every place on the planet that you can find using Google Maps.

For example, “time travel” isn’t possible at three of Europe’s most famous and heavily visited public places: Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican, San Marco’s Square in Venice, and Trafalgar Square in London. But you can jump from 2008 and 2011 with the “Street View” of my house on an “off-the-beaten-path” street in a San Francisco Bay Area town where most tourists are just driving through, pedal-to-the-metal, to get to the ocean beaches as fast as possible.

If “time travel” is possible at a location, you’ll see a little clock icon and “thumbnail” photo screen at the top left of the “Street View”, as with Union Square in San Francisco.

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Click on a point in the timeline, or drag the circular dot along it, to change the “Street View” photo.

Practicalities

While I find Google Maps generally good for getting directions and for seeing what’s surrounding where I’m at when I’m away from home, such as restaurants, museums, and hotels, the ability to move around in time via “Street View” hasn’t any practical value for travelers, particularly since that function doesn’t seem to be available in Google Maps for iPhone or iPad.

But it can be addictively entertaining, so like alcoholic beverages, use it in moderation.

(Read more about this new Google Maps feature at Smithsonian.com.)

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