Google's Slope View of the Winter Olympics

Google Buzz is only the latest example of Google refusing to rest on its laurels. In 2006, Google introduced an API for Google Maps, which let developers implement the mapping tool in original ways and contexts. Some resulting uses are utilitarian, such as finding a fast food restaurant, seeing where the hell Matt Harding is, or finding out which of your neighbors own a Wii. But other programmers have created full-fledged games out of Google Maps. lets you pilot the boat of your choice across the seas of Google Maps, while Hasbro temporarily ran a game of Monopoly set in actual neighborhoods.

As much fun as the virtual playground is, Google is just as keen on plotting the real world. In 2007, Google Maps added a first-person perspective called Google Street View, which provides actual, street-level, digital panoramas of an ever-growing number of metropolitan areas. Google is expanding Street View's coverage all the time, even to those places inaccessible by car. Last month, the world-famous San Diego Zoo became the USA's first zoo to be available by Google Street View.

Now, "Street View" is becoming even more of a misnomer, as Google is taking its users to the slopes of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which start today, Feb. 12, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Though television coverage will show us the snow terrain as the world's athletes encounter it, Google Street View will let us explore the mountains at our own pace, getting closer looks at the particularly tricky twists and turns the countries' representatives navigate.

How long before Google Street View has an API similar to Google Maps? Would it be used to turn this digital archive of Vancouver into a photorealistic skiing game? Or are there practical applications beyond the ephemeral novelty of exploring this year's Olympics?

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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