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Travelogue #3 – Virtual Wanderlust

In early December 2009, a friend posted a link on Facebook that caught my eye, that of a virtual tour of the ruins of Pompeii in Italy. Lo & behold, I felt like I was strolling around this incredible, historic site all from the comfort of my bed !!

Google Maps with it’s Street View function is changing the way we imagine and explore the world, be it trying to picture what our surroundings would look like when we get off at an unfamiliar station in NYC, or through these new virtual tours of landmarks around the world.  Check out what UNESCO is attempting to do in collaboration with Google –

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The questions this brings to my mind are -

a) How do you see this changing sightseeing / tourism, and could we call this virtual tourism? Is Google making world famous landmarks accessible to those unable to travel?

b) Could this help revolutionize education methods of tecahing history, geography, architecture, etc, as this kind of technology improves?

c) Are we ready to give up on the thrill of exploring and actually travelling to these far off lands? Or is this an example of technology providing us with the power to choose what we would like to see and do whilst travelling?

It is these questions, and related thoughts and various opinions that I would like to explore in the coming weeks through this travelogue.

** UPDATE **

So, upon further research, I realized that another key issue or question that comes into play with Google Street View is that of PRIVACY (surprise surprise huh?). The application gave rise to a number of blogs and websites when it was first launched in 2007, because it used real time (uncensored) footage and clips.

Websites such as  Street View Fun cashed in on this new fad by asking people to submit their favorite images from Google Street View, Bing StreetSide and Mapjack. These images range from the scenic, to the funny and quirky, to the very inappropriate (read – contain nudity) even. Point in case, check out this image someone captured of a woman ‘flashing’ the Google cameras —

Google Gets Flashed !

Even more recently, Google Street View has been condemned by the European Union, which has expressed concerns that Google is violating EU citizens’ rights to privacy. To quote from a news report from last week -

Street View has been met with significant backlash time and time again. Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Greece have all expressed concern with Street View. Google has responded to those concerns by agreeing to blur out people’s faces, license plate numbers, and other personally identifiable details, as well as lowering the height of the Street View camera to ensure it doesn’t become a digital “peeping Tom”, capturing photos of people in intimate or compromising settings in their own homes.

The new challenge from the EU relates to warning communities before the Google Street View-mobile rolls into town, and the length of time Google retains the unblurred, original images in its own database. The EU has asked that Google do more than simply post its image-capturing schedule online, and that it purge the original images after six months.”

(Source: http://www.networkworld.com/news/2010/022610-google-street-view-raises-privacy.html )


Interesting that we keep coming back to Google & Privacy Issues isn’t it??


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3 Comments

  1. HoniehLayla 15:47, Feb 23rd, 10

    Niharika,

    I think this is an amazing idea. I love to travel and if I could get “virtual 360 view” of what I am in store for I will be more aware of the surroundings I will encounter.

    I think its a great idea, and for those of us who can barely travel due to our busy schedules this is a nice little outlet to indulge ourselves in.

    Again – a GOOGLE collaboration.. Not that I’m surprised but they must be taking over every industry out their and building interesting products with their technology.

    For your first question – This will change sight seeing/tourism – possible give it a boom because tourists will have more knowledge and feel less anxious about strange environments.

    Education methods – Definitely a plus. Students can get a virtual tour of the Champs Elysees and see inside Pei’s pyramid and the Louvre simply from their classrooms.

    I don’t think this will deter individuals from traveling whatsoever – it will do the complete opposite.

    I also believe this is a great tool for those who can’t afford to travel to foreign countries.

    love your idea!

  2. Juliette 11:08, Feb 26th, 10

    I love this project and this your first question is the most interesting.

    Indeed what “social” advancement this new tool will provide?

    Is it really going to enable people who cannot travel to have the same benefit that the one who do? Is there any historical or theoritical content in these video? Or is it just about technology?

  3. mushon 09:59, Feb 28th, 10

    I feel like it’s less about replacing travel and more about augmenting it. The direction Google is going with its Streetview functionality is towards augmented reality – this idea of exploring physical space with an additional information layer that describes where you’re at.

    One of the aspects of this that I find interesting is how Google collaborates with Unesco to brand their services as cultural staples. This is Similar to the approach they’ve been taking with their initiative to digitize all of the artefacts in the Baghdad Museum. Cultural contribution on one hand and branding their services as cultural on the other. This is not a conspiracy theory, just a very smart way of doing business.

    Looking forward to reading your question post :)