There are few constants in the universe. One is that things change over time. The other is Google. Now those two constants have come together, allowing you to see how streets have changed over the past few years or what they look like in different seasons.
It's all possible through the latest iteration of Google Street View, the feature of Google Maps that allows you to see exactly what an area looks like at street level. Google has been driving its cameras through city and village streets since 2007, updating its images every few months. But rather than throw the old images away, Google has kept them archived. Now they have added the previous iterations of each location back to Google Street View, allowing users to scroll through the past seven years to see how things have changed.
In a blog post, Google Street View product manager Vinay Shet called this historic imagery a "digital time capsule of the world." As he wrote, "you can see a landmark's growth from the ground up, like the Freedom Tower in New York City or the 2014 World Cup Stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil. This new feature can also serve as a digital timeline of recent history, like the reconstruction after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Onagawa, Japan. You can even experience different seasons and see what it would be like to cruise Italian roadways in both summer and winter."
Shet told Time that the new feature offers people the opportunity to make some pretty amazing observations. "It's only been seven years, but it's amazing how many interesting changes we've found." The photos show buildings rising or being renovated; graffiti appearing, disappearing and reappearing; and overpasses being built over highways.
Users have apparently been clamoring for this feature for years, Google director of engineering Luc Vincent told Re/Code. "The hard part of this is the data and infrastructure," he said. "We just hadn't gotten around to it."
Accessing any of this is easy. Once you're in Google Street View, look for a little clock-shaped icon. Once you click on that, a timeline appears, allowing you to scroll through each date that Google imaged a site. (The time travel feature isn't available for every location. For example, Google has only imaged the Galapagos Islands one time so far.)
Of course, even Google doesn't capture everything. I gave this new feature a test drive and Google appears to have only photographed my home town in Maine during the summer and autumn months. You can use Google Street View now to see the summer tourists and the fall foliage, but not the snow-covered winter streets. (Actually, for that, I'm kind of thankful.)
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