Why did Google create Street View?

The more I think about it, the more I question why Google spent so much time and money implementing “Street View”. Sure, it’s neat — but isn’t it just a temporary (and unnecessary) step?

With the advancements in 3D buildings in Google Earth (and Virtual Earth, for that matter), making your own “Street View” of any street anywhere is getting easier. For example, look at the comparison shot below in Denver:

Downtown Denver - StreetView vs. Google Earth

Street View looks a bit better if you zoom in tight, but Google Earth is very close. It simply seems to me that Google would be better served improving their 3D models rather than going off on this temporary side project.

Of course, there are three good reasons why they might have decided to make Street View, even with the objections I have.

1 – Good press. It’s not a big news story to say “the 3D models in Denver are now a little bit sharper than they were before”, but Street View has generated a ton of news hype (and therefore traffic and revenue).

2 – It’s in a browser. Google Earth is a standalone client and not as easily accessible for everyone. Of course, maybe Google Earth will end up in a browser some day and that will be an irrelevant point. However, Google hasn’t indicated that at all so it might never happen.

3- Maybe they’ll be using the Street View data to map onto 3D buildings, and this is just a temporary interface into it.

What do you think? Is Street View just a temporary stop on the way to something else? Or is it the way of the future?


  1. I too thought that StreetView was interesting but wondered why they went that route considering they own Google Earth. As a stop gap they could have generated streetviews from GE instead of using immersive techs products with all its potential issues (Privacy, and visual noise to name two). But there are great things to be learned from this product. First, it’s very easy to navigate and change perspectives. Second, it offers a step toward providing real-time 3D imagery. Third, now we know it can be done. Expect other way cool products to appear because of this!

  2. I have to disagre with you here. Street view has so much more detail that GE´s 3D Buildings. From the top of my head: If I am looking at a specific business/shop/bar I am not going to get much info from the 3D model.
    See ya!

    • I’ll admit I was wrong on this one (this post was from three years ago). I still think that it’ll eventually be essentially replaced with the 3D buildings/trees, but it’ll take longer than I expected.

      Two things have gone differently than I expected:
      1 — 3D buildings have been slower to come along. They’ve certainly added a ton, but there’s still a long way to go.
      2 — More importantly, they’ve added a LOT more Street View imagery than I would have expected. The depth of coverage has become staggering. For 3D buildings to replace it, they’d need pretty much full 3D coverage across the globe, which we’re obviously a long way from.


  1. […] a few days ago) and that seems likely to continue. I said a few years ago that I thought StreetView might simply be a temporary solution, as 3D modeled worlds would eventually be more useful. I still think that’s true, but […]

Leave a Reply