You only have to poke around the DataSphere for a little while to figure out I love Google maps, and partly because I’m so dependent on them to give you, gentle reader, a geographic look at data sometimes.
Google just seems to jam out great new stuff all the time — Google Earth, Google Chat, and now the Google video chat.The latest Google thing we in the Roanoke area ought to be checking out is it’s “Street View” images of Roanoke. Just go to maps.google.com, search on an address, and if there’s a street view there, you’ll see a link to it in the info bubble that pops up. Click that, and you’ll be transported to that spot photographically. From there you can pivot in any direction, 360 degrees. You can look straight up, or straight down. Notice the arrows on the roadway. Click one to move forward.
I played with this a while yesterday. Naturally, I plugged in my home address to see if my house was there. It was, in an image shot, apparently, on a spring day, while we were all gone. Neither of our cars was in the driveway. Well, that’s cool, right?
I mean, this is not only a visual document of pretty much every square inch of roadway around here, but it’s also a snapshot of the second in time when a particular image was taken. You can see cars on the road, pedestrians on the sidewalk, notice the weather.
On the other hand, it was kind of creepy. It made me feel vulnerable somehow, made my private life feel a little more out there than I really wanted it to be.
Now, as a journalist, I defend the right of any documentarian to take photos in a public place like a city street. This newspaper depends on that.
On the other hand, this feels invasive somehow. I’m all about more information, but do we really need this much information? Granted, there’s not a minute level of visual information in these photographs. You can see people in some places, and you can zoom in, but not to a great extent before the image begins to deteriorate. I’ve been trying, and I’ve yet to be able to really see a face or make out a license plate. But is there still potential for abuse here? Could people use this to gather information about you for nefarious purposes?
No doubt, the technology is amazing, but this puts me in mind of something I ask myself about putting data on the web. I’m all about data, and the more the better, but all journalists, including data editors, ought to be frequently asking themselves, “Just because I can, does that mean I should?”
What do you all think? Go play with this new toy, and if you think about it, report back here.