Go time traveling with Google Maps

Google adds new time machine feature to let users see older images of favorite places, buildings

Google is giving users something of a time machine in a new feature on Maps.

The company is adding past images of places noted in Street View for the desktop version of Google Maps. The goal is to give users the ability to see how places have changed over time.

"We've gathered historical imagery from past Street View collections dating back to 2007 to create this digital time capsule of the world," wrote Vinay Shet, Google's Street View product manager, in a blog post. "Now with Street View, you can see a landmark's growth from the ground up, like the Freedom Tower in New York City or the 2014 World Cup Stadium in Fortaleza, Brazil."

NYC Freedom Tower
With Google's new time machine-like feature in Maps, users can follow the construction of the Freedom Tower in New York City. (Photo: Google)

Google also says the new feature can serve as a digital timeline of recent history, enabling users to follow the reconstruction underway in Japan after the devastating tsunami and earthquake in 2011.

Users also can use the new feature to see what cities would look like in different seasons. Looking to take a bike tour of the French countryside or the green mountains of Vermont? Now users can get a glimpse of them at different times of the year to help them decide when to go.

The feature is gradually being rolled out to users. Users will know if the feature is available if they see a clock icon in the upper left-hand portion of a Street View image. They can click on it and move the slider through time and select a thumbnail to see that same place in previous years or seasons, Shet said.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, said Maps' new feature is "cute" but doesn't offer much benefit to most users.

"It's just a gimmick," Kerravala said. "They're only going back six years so that's not a huge amount of time. Real estate firms, law firms, etc. may have some use, but otherwise I don't believe it's all that sticky of an application."

This article, Go time traveling with Google Maps, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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