Google Maps playing catchup with Virtual Earth

Google Maps has released some street-level imagery with Street View. One interesting note is that this feature seems to have sidestepped Google’s typical protracted “Beta” phase. (Seriously, why is Gmail still in Beta?  Did they just forget to edit the logo?) 

The Street View interface is pretty usable and intuitive from a first take, I’d even say quite a bit better than the initial “driving game” style interface seen at preview.local.live.com

There’s been a bit of confusion about what the imaging vehicles look like with Engadget posting reflected images yesterday, and then later posting images of Immersive’s non-stealth imaging vehicle.

First shot of the van, captured from Google Maps

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Immersive’s VW, from Immersive Media Website

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Some are arguing that one or the other is incorrect, but the likely case is that the initial imaging was done with unmarked, inconspicuous vehicles and that future imaging will be done with those cute VW Beetles.

This same pattern was seen with Microsoft’s Streetside imaging vehicles (actually run by Facet Technologies)

Stealth Van: (found in a reflected image back in March 2006)

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Non-stealth Truck: (spotted on the OH turnpike in June 2005)

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Whatever the case, it’s very interesting to see competition in this space.  I’m just waiting for the 3d-city views and this street-level imaging to converge through some marriage of Photosynth-like technology, huge datasets, and lots of processing power.

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