New Google Maps Feature Gives Idahoans Few “Time Travel” Options

Apr 25, 2014

Google describes its new map feature with references to the movie “Back to the Future."

“Forget going 88 mph in a DeLorean—you can stay where you are and use Google Maps to virtually explore the world as it is—and as it was,” a company blog post declares. “Happy (time) traveling!”  

In Google Maps you can click on “street view” and see roughly what you would if you were actually standing in that spot. Until now, Google has only shown the most recent street images captured by its army of car mounted cameras. The new time-travel feature allows people to look at street scenes from the past, going back to 2007 when the company started taking pictures of the world’s streets.

Google's cameras captured a parking garage and an empty lot on Boise's 9th St. in 2007. In the most recent 2012 image glass apartments top the garage and the Simplot JUMP building has just begun.
Credit google.com/maps screen grab / Google

The idea is to watch how a neighborhood or landscape changes over time. But unlike Marty McFly’s DeLorean you can’t set it for any time you want. Your options are limited to where Google’s cars (probably not DeLoreans) have been. That changes a lot depending on where you want to look.

Zoom into downtown Boise for example, and click on the corner of 8th and Main. Your only options will be how the spot looked on a July day in 2007 or 2011. There is very little difference, just a fence around and empty lot. But if you stand on that spot in the real world today you’d see an 18 story building. If you adjust your location in the map a little (the equivalent  of a few yards) you might get a third option of a day from 2012 that shows the beginning of the construction.

Other spots, especially bigger cities, have more options. You can watch the seasons change in New York’s Central Park with almost a dozen shots over many years. But it’s not always population that draws Google’s camera cars. You can put yourself on Ketchum, Idaho’s Main Street and watch the snow come and go on the mountains with four shots over four years.

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