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Google adds a sense of history to Street View with archive footage

Visual 'Wayback Machine' covers 2007 to the present

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Google is adding historical images to its Street View image library so that users can step backwards and forwards through time and track development from when the Chocolate Factory cameras cars last rolled by.

"If you’ve ever dreamt of being a time traveler like Doc Brown, now’s your chance," wrote Vinay Shet, Google Street View manager, in a blog post.

"Starting today, you can travel to the past to see how a place has changed over the years by exploring Street View imagery in Google Maps for desktop. We've gathered historical imagery from past Street View collections dating back to 2007 to create this digital time capsule of the world."

Desktop users will see a clock icon in the top left corner of the Street View screen as the archive tool is rolled out. Clicking it gives a scrolling timeline of what imagery Google has to hand from the Street View archive.

Some of the images in the archive actually date from well before 2007. Google released Street View on May 25, 2007, but its spymobiles had been crisscrossing the highways of the US for some time before that to gather the initial images. Europe started getting mapped a year later, and Google cars have now been on the roads of over 50 countries taking street-life snapshots.

Google has also been moving Street View cameras onto bicycles and backpacks to catalog parts of the world inaccessible to the automobile, such as inside the Large Hadron Collider or a British Navy submarine.

But there have been plenty of stumbles along the way. It turns out that some people get really touchy when they are photographed. The Chocolate Factory got hit with lawsuits almost immediately after launching Street View, and it had a major kerfuffle with the EU that prompted it to blur out human faces.

There was also the infamous collection of Wi-Fi data that Google's cars slurped up – accidentally, according to the company's explanation. Google paid a few minor fines and deleted the data, although it's still appealing its US settlement. But bad feelings remain, and some of Google's Street View cars have been vandalized as a result.

That's not to say Street View hasn't provided some chuckles, too. There have been some memorably bizarre scenes captured for posterity, ranging from the embarrassing to the superhuman. Street View drivers are usually hired on a contract basis and are sworn to secrecy about their routes, but it's obvious a few people are getting forewarned.

Google has said it will be rolling out the "time travel" service shortly, which history suggests will mean a limited release in the US while server loads and last minute bugs are ironed out, then gradual worldwide access. ®

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