Monday, January 18, 2010

The Little Red Dot on Google Map

Allan and Barbara Pease wrote "Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps" in 1999.

In a nutshell, the book explains the strengths and weaknesses of both genders. Obviously, among other things, the authors are saying that, well, 'women can't read maps'.

I have to admit that I am naturally not good at it and I know many who are worse. I think the GPS makers are aware of the potential market and they have got me using one too. See an earlier post on "A Device For The (Lost) Goons?".

When Google brought Google Street View to Singapore in Dec last year, I was one of the early users. I just had to find out if they have made map reading easier for me.

Google Street View is not new. When it was first launched in May 2007, it covered areas of only five cities in the USA (New York, San Francisco, Denver, Miami and Las Vegas). More areas were later added but they were all within the USA.

In July 2008, Google Street View covered the first areas outside the USA (France and Italy). By now, it has coverage in at least nine countries. Singapore is the first in the South East Asia.

I have some initial thoughts about Google Street View after using it for more than a month now. Before I go on, it is helpful to note that Google Street View in Singapore is somewhat unique.

Singapore is a tiny island state (710.2 km2 or 274.2 sq mi) and it is known as the "Little Red Dot" by the local people. Being tiny, Google was able to extend the coverage of Google Street View to almost the entire country.

The Google Street View camera cars were first spotted on the streets here in Oct 08 and a year later, it was launched on 2 Dec 09.

Google Street View is simple to use. To view a chosen part of a street, you simply drag the orange 'pegman' icon from its position onto the location on the map. You may want to scale the map first. At each position, you can navigate to view upwards or sideways to enjoy 360° horizontal and 290° vertical views.

It is very useful to have an extensive coverage in Singapore. Besides rendering aids to people who need more help to visualize maps, there are other ways Google Street View comes in handy:

1. Tourists

Singapore is a popular tourist destination. Now, tourists can visit the country virtually before arriving here. They can plan their itinerary as they visually comb (almost) the entire island.

See street view of the Esplanade (foreground) and the Singapore Flyer (background) taken from the Esplanade Drive in the picture above.

2. Singaporeans Abroad

Home sick? Our fellow Singaporeans away from home can always 'walk' around their neighborhood or visit their old schools whenever they feel like it.

Picture above shows Singapore public housing taken from Bedok North Street 2.

3. Foreign Investors

Thinking of buying a posh house here? Why not check out the property and its surrounding first?

4. Foreign Students

Planning to further your education in Singapore? With Google Street View, you can take a look at the shortlisted schools and the amenities around them.

Picture above is taken from outside the Singapore Anglo-Chinese Junior College at Dover Road.

5. Customers

Now customers have one more way to check out a new restaurant. They can take a look on Google Street View first before heading down. House hunters can check out the estate and have some ideas of the location before seeing the house.

Picture above shows a view from Damsey Road, a location filled with exciting restaurants.

6. Every User

With Google Street View, you can indicate a meeting place to friends, plan a jogging route or recce a camp site. The uses are only limited by our imagination.

So far, Google Street View sounds god-sent. However, there have been no lack of opposing voices since Google Street View hit the street in 2007. The main controversy is the privacy issue.

Images on Google Street View are taken from a camera mounted on a moving vehicle. Inevitably, images of people taken at some inappropriate places have given rise to complaints.

In May 2008, Google began using the face-blurring technology on its photos of Manhattan streets. Today this technology is also used in many other areas. In Singapore, the face-blurring technology is applied and the car license plates are also blurred.

Infringement of privacy will remain a main concern. If it is not handled satisfactorily, it may become a stumbling block for the future expansion of Google Street View.

Besides the privacy issues, Google Street View is sometimes being criticized for its photo quality. has some examples of such sightings. Take a look. You are allowed to laugh.

Finally, click on the Google Street View site and come 'visit' Singapore.

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