My 3/22/09 Missoulian column
Last month, I heard that images of Missoula were available on Google Street View, part of Google Maps, and since then I’ve spent a few hours cruising around town with my MacBook. To me, the photographs of Missoula are an interesting time capsule and must be an interesting way for visitors to find their way around town.
I was immediately curious about when the Google cars were in Missoula. In the photographs it’s obviously spring, as some trees are in bloom and others just sprouting leaves. The Clark Fork looks dark with silt and is running bank to bank. Gardens are bare all over town, except for some with white deer netting. Some of the photos were taken early in the morning of a bluebird day, with people eating breakfast on the sidewalk, and other photos were taken on one of those usual and numerous dull, gray spring days.
The former jewelry store clock downtown on Higgins shows what appears to be quarter-to-four in the afternoon. And I happened upon the sun rising over a stretch of Interstate 90 east of town, glaring right into the camera.
Another indicator of the time frame Google was in town is the foundation wall forms still going in at the First Interstate Bank on Front and Higgins. And you can see some of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s work going on at Milltown. I searched a few gas stations until I found one with a legible sign and saw that gas was $3.59 a gallon at the time.
Of course, leave it to users to turn Street View on itself. There are many Street View “blooper” sites, such as www.gstreetsightings.com People have spotted the Google camera cars on roads all around the world and taken their own photos, and a lucky few have photographed the Google cars pulled over by the police, evidently for appearing suspicious with the big tripod-mounted cameras or for making illegal turns.
Someone cruising Street View in New England spotted footage of a Google car photographing itself when it hit a deer, and the photos were subsequently removed from the application, but not before they were copied. The story goes that the deer jumped up and ran away while the Google driver waited for the police.
There’s much more about Street View at the Wikipedia entry for Street View, including photography techniques, world coverage, privacy issues and links.