Month: January 2005

Interactive urban decay from the comfort of your own home?

     Amazon launched a new feature today that is impossibly cool: They’ve integrated their yellow pages and Mapquest with a database of images enabling users to visually scroll up and down the block. You can see an example of what I’m talking about here, just mouse-over the sequence of images along the bottom of the page.

     Amazon has a brief ‘behind the scenes’ page with a video describing their process available in Windows Media and Quicktime Formats. Essentially, they mounted a camera on top of an SUV, hooked it up to a laptop and a GPS unit, and drove up and down each street, presumably capturing images at predetermined intervals (From the video, it looks like they may have been looking ahead, capturing video for future implementation, and stripping out frames at pre-determined intervals for this project). Here’s one bit where a bus drove by as they were capturing the storefronts, blocking the camera’s view (update: UPS Truck).

     Presently, ‘Block View’ is only available in Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Chicago, New York City (Manhattan), Denver, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco – but Amazon claims that “More cities and images are being added all the time. Chances are that your city will be captured soon!” I can’t wait for Detroit to get this treatment, making online exploration of the remote corners of urban ruin possible. In the meantime, Detroitfunk does a fine job of documenting the city the old-fashioned way.

     Bonus additional thought: How long before NYC graffitti connoisseurs begin documenting the various tags that show up in Amazon’s database (quick example)? [Update: similarly, this slashdot comment proposes a number of games based on the photo database.] [Update Again: A Flickr group containing interesting things found in Amazon’s block view database can be found here.]

Further Thoughts:

     Most of the comments on the slashdot thread relating to this deal with maintainability and how often they’ll be able to refresh the image content. One particular quote: “A block in NYC can change dramatically in a year…” got me all excited about how they could keep a record of urban changes from update to update. Then even I got weirded out by how nerdy that is. This also reminded me of an interview with Spider-Man director Sam Raimi that I read around the time Spider-Man 2 was released. The interviewer asked him what he was going to do with his Gabillion dollars, and he launched into some crazy scheme about placing cameras above New York City and taking one image per hour forever. Anyone else remember this article? [Update: Here it is]

     Another interesting usability concern: “One issue that is confusing me, and I might just be missing something here, is that I can’t seem to find the other side of the street. I did a search for my local supermarket (in manhattan) and I got a great picture of the store on the other side of the street. There’s no “turn around” button anywhere. Did they just take photos of one side of the street??”