Tuesday 10 July 2012

The Street View time machine

I remember being very impressed when Google launched their Street View application in Spain as an addition feature to Google Maps. I even forgave them for not including my street at first, it seemed like a great idea. Although after the initial interest faded I can't say that I have been back using it very much. However, the other day I thought it might be a useful tool to check some data that I'd collected in Madrid where I wasn't absolutely sure about the location. When it came to looking at the area around Madrid's Puerta del Sol I soon realized that I had a problem.

Anyone looking at the Puerta del Sol in Street View would be left with the impression that the centre point of Spain's capital is little more than a huge building site. The Street View image doesn't lie, the problem is just that it is now very out of date. This is how the Puerta del Sol looked between 2007-2009, as the construction of a new station for local train services took over the square. But the new station has now been open for 3 years. Those Google cars with the cameras clearly haven't passed this way for some time, although perhaps this hasn't been helped by the square becoming mostly pedestrian.

This is not the only problem, there is also the mysterious case of the moving statue!

In Street View you see it, now you don't.

The statue of the bear and the madroño (strawberry tree) is a famous Madrid symbol, and an easy meeting point when you can't think of anywhere else. If you want to meet someone by the statue today then forget Street View, you need to be up near the building covered in scaffolding at the end of the square. 

This structure behind the statue is still marked in Google as the "Tio Pepe" building because of the landmark advertising sign clearly visible on the roof of the building in the first Street View image above. Google may not necessarily be in a hurry to update their information on this building, it is currently being refurbished to become the new Apple Store. Sadly for many, it is reported that Tio Pepe will not be returning to the roof when the shop opens.

Street View has captured the Madrid of the boom years, when it seemed there was hardly a street in the capital that didn't have some sort of work in progress. Residents of the city were used to finding their way around the trenches and building sites. Things are a bit quieter these days. With Apple now launching their own mapping services there is ever more competition to offer additional mapping services. The problem is, as this example shows, that the resources needed to maintain multiple different views of a city make keeping the maps up to date a huge and expensive exercise. But then if you don't, what use is the service?

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