Like many other people I know, I’ve been waiting anxiously for Google Street View to be launched in Canada. It seems that Google has had some difficulty in complying with the federal privacy legislation in Canada, and that’s the primary reason why the service hasn’t made it here just yet.
The main issue here is the high-resolution personal images and other identifiable information (e.g. car license plates) that have sometimes accompanied Google’s street view in the other countries where it was launched previously (including U.S., U.K. and France). Collecting personal images without the explicit consent of the people in those images is a prohibited practice under Canada’s Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).
So while Google is getting ready to start filming Canadian cities, Canadians have another alternative to check out. We now have our own Street View equivalent in some cities - thanks to the partnership between the British Columbia-based yellow pages directory service provider CanPages.ca, and San Francisco-based MapJack.
By my own initial assessment, the street view service offered by CanPages is a strong contender for Google Street View. In fact, I’ve seen features in Canpages.ca that I haven’t seen in Google Street View – e.g. high resolution full screen mode, pedestrian pathway views, image configuration, and did I mention pedestrian pathway views. The virtual 360 degree panning works pretty well too.
The service has been launched in Vancouver and some other parts of British Columbia, perhaps rightly so, given the timeline for the Winter Olympics in 2010. I suspect the service will be a hit with the tourists!
To check out the various features myself, I decided to virtual walk the part of the city that I’m most familiar with from my last visit to Vancouver. Since the CanPages.ca service is primarily a yellow pages service, I had to supply a business name or a landmark to get started, and I searched for the Sheraton Wall Centre Hotel in Vancouver where I’ve stayed previously. Once the listing was displayed, I clicked on the Street View option and panned 180 degrees to get to the front view of the hotel building (see screenshot below).
Notice the various visual aids such as zoom, pan, and full-screen options, as well as the inline blue dots where more views of the street are available. Also, a small cartoon figure (let's call him virtual voyager) appears on the street map for orientation and reference (pretty cool!).
Here’s a screenshot of the full-screen view (size reduced for posting here of course). It truly allows users to immerse themselves into the cityscape.
In terms of its business model, the new Street View offering is aligned with CanPages’ yellow pages service, as it provides advertisers – especially local businesses an innovative means of reaching the website's visitors. Specifically, when a user clicks on a storefront in Street View, he/she will get to see a local profile of the business, and possibly other relevant links to video advertisements, website URL, and general information such as hours of operation or restaurant menus in the case of food service locations.
Overall, I think it’s a sound business offering as it comprises enough originality to spark end-user interest and also presents long-term functional value to the consumer.