Google Street View

I've been fascinated by the use of photography in wayfinding since well before I began exploring the idea at CMU five years ago. A9's Blockview impressed me back then but Google has absolutely raised the bar with their new Street View version of Google Maps.

A9 was useful for researching my trip before flying out to interview at Cooper in San Francisco. I loved the idea of virtually exploring the city but the static photos always seemed to come up short. I wanted to turn my head and look around while I browsed the neighborhood. Google's done an incredibly intuitive job of allowing you to do just that. Using what I can only assume is technology from the Stanford Cityblock project, they've created essentially continuous VR maps of entire cities.

It's a virtuoso piece of technology but it still suffers from the same flaw as the now defunct Amazon A9. Google Street View is place-agnostic. It's brute force. By focusing on everything, they don't really focus on anything. I can "walk" down practically any street in San Francisco, but other than the roads, nothing seems to be annotated. Go over to 18th and Guerrero. You can spin around and browse all the buildings at the intersection, but you'd have no idea you were standing next to the most famous bakery in the city.

If you already know about Tartine, you can type it into Google Local, and it quickly pops up with all kinds of helpful information, including a link to the street view of Tartine on the map. But that assumes you already know about the bakery. It allows you to find what you already knew was there.

With all the metrics that Google has at their disposal, it doesn't seem like a stretch for them to help people uncover new facets of the city. To support exploration, not discovery.

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