Google hits the street with new map features

Google unveils two new additions for Google Maps; Street View and Mapplets

Google has unveiled Street View, a new feature that gives a panoramic flavour to its Google Maps application by offering 360-degree, navigable photographic views of selected locations.

The Street View feature places users at road level, giving them the perspective of drivers and pedestrians. But far from just being a static image, users are free to walk around and view landmarks, restaurants and other various points of interests. An introductory video on the Google Maps page shows the resolution in the photos is sufficient even to read parking restriction signs.

At this point, only a handful of US cities (San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Miami and Denver) have been mapped by Google's army of camera-equipped vehicles that prowl public streets capturing the street-level images, but the company says more are to be added in the near future.

Although uppity pedestrians may gawk at the prospect of being featured in Google's Street View images, a Google Australia spokesperson ensured that users' privacy was of paramount importance to the company.

"While the Street View feature enables people to easily find, discover, and plan activities relevant to a location, we respect the fact that people may not want imagery they feel is inappropriate featured on the service," said the spokesperson. "We provide easily accessible tools for flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for review and removal."

The spokesperson also said plans were underway for Australian cities to follow the Street View suite, but specifics were lacking.

"Due to the rapid and hard-to-predict nature of product development here at Google, we are currently unable to provide dates, or estimates, on our imagery collection schedule," they said.

Meanwhile, Google also announced it is now possible to build lightweight applications for users to mash up with Google Maps. Called Mapplets, these gadgets enable third-party developers to create mini applications that can be displayed on Google Maps, much like Google Gadgets are displayed on iGoogle.

Mapplets take the concept of Google Maps mashups one step further, Google said. Previously, developers could build an application on top of Maps and make it available on a specific Web site. Now, those mashups can be packaged as a Mapplet so that multiple maps can be combined on a single Maps Web site.

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