It may seem hard to believe, but Google’s Street View technology just celebrated its tenth anniversary earlier this year.

Launched on May 29, 2007, Google Street View began providing ground-level, 360-degree street views in five U.S. cities. Street View went international in 2008, expanding to France, Italy, Japan, and Australia; by 2010, Google had expanded Street View to every continent, including Antarctica. In 2012, Google added the ability for certain smartphone users to create and upload their own 360-degree panorama photos to be publicly viewed in Street View, and by 2014 Google was offering historical Street Views, which allowed users to travel back in time to previous Street View updates.

The 360-degree Street View panoramas are very compelling. Google continuously updates their Street View footprint with a fleet of cars, tricycles, backpacks, and even snowmobiles, providing them with the ability to not only capture roadways, but also routes and areas not navigable by normal cars – even indoors. This is incredibly valuable when searching for points of interest like restaurants or getting directions to an unfamiliar place – Street View can provide insight about the area around your destination and give the user an idea of what to expect or how difficult it may be to find parking. For more exotic destinations, Google has a Google Maps Treks website that showcases national parks, museums, and points of interest all across the globe that have been captured with a Street View camera, which includes bucket-list destinations like the Taj Mahal and the Grand Canyon.

And get this: all of this imagery is available for organizations and businesses to use in their own websites and apps.

As you might expect from a huge tech conglomerate, Google has what seems like an endless list of products and services that developers can use to build or extend their websites and apps. Many of these products and services come in the form of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which can be defined as a set of routines, protocols, and tools for building software applications. Most of these APIs can be used for free provided that the app or website using the API stays below usage thresholds. These thresholds can vary from API to API, but the Google Maps API has a detailed pricing table that outlines limits and some example use cases.

Using Google Street View at Towson University

Here at the Towson University Center for GIS, we design, build, and deliver products using an ever-evolving set of APIs from all over the web. Some of those are Google Web APIs like the Maps API. For example, we built and help update and maintain the Towson University Campus Map using the Maps API.

Google Street View in Towson University campus map

More and more, we’ve also been using Google Street View images and panoramas in our applications. These interactive panoramas can add a lot of value to your application by providing additional context to a location. For example, we built and maintain an application for a large state agency that plots accident locations on a map and we recently added Street View panoramas to each incident location. Almost immediately, a user was able to view an accident hot spot location using a Street View panorama and was able to identify a roadway obstruction that was deemed to cause of several incidents. For another client, we created a sort of “Store finder” application that allows users to search and filter properties for sale; adding Street View to the property detail page provided additional context to each property, allowing users to explore each property as if they were walking through it themselves.

If this has inspired you to use Street View imagery in your next project or add it to a current one, great! There are many different ways you can do so. The quickest way to get started would probably be the using the Street View mode that’s part of the Maps Embed API. There’s almost no coding required—once you create a Google API Key, all you need to do is follow the instructions to construct a URL to embed on your page within an iframe.

For those who are more comfortable writing some code, the Google Maps JavaScript API contains a Street View Service that allows users to add Street View panoramas web applications using JavaScript.

If you’d like a more practical, hands-on guide to using Google Street View panorama in your next project, watch this space! My next blog post will be more of a walk-through that will guide you through the process.

Stay tuned—and thanks for reading!