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Posted by on Jun 21, 2009 in Places, Science & Technology, Society | 3 comments

Google Street View Shows a Crack

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A few months back Siva Vaidhyanathan asked if anyone had ever used Google Street View for something important? He posted some of the interesting answers he got, but none was quite so newsworthy as this:

A four story building collapsed in Brooklyn today, just before 2pm. The “Vesper Bar & Lounge” at 493 Myrtle Avenue is completely unrecognizable after the collapse, which saw no casualties and four minor injuries, according to early reports. The Bar was closed at the time and emergency services are still on the scene.

Images of the fallen building were quickly posted to photo-sharing sites Twitpic Twitpic (here and here) and Yfrog (here and here). But what makes this story more intriguing is that the imagery on Google Maps Street View clearly shows a large crack running up the front of the building

[Clickthrough for before and after images of the collapsed building.]

While Google Street View is sometimes viewed as invasive, eroding privacy yet further as more of our lives are captured and digitized, the event shows an unexpected benefit: images that once seemed irrelevant are suddenly at the center of a major news event.

Jeff Jarvis reads this as an example of why we must protect the idea of public:

What is happening in Iran this week is public, no matter how much the despots try to make it private. See, too, this Guardian report in which a witness captured images of police allegedly roughing up and arresting citizens for demanding officers’ badge numbers and photographing them – for enforcing the doctrine of publicness with public officials.

Indeed, I’d say this doctrine should stretch to saying that everything a public official does is public – everything except matters of security. Thus Britain’s MPs would not be allowed to black out their spending of taxpayers’ money. Thus the default in American government would be transparency, making any official’s actions and information open and searchable. Thus anyone in Ft. Greene could scour Streetview to look for unsafe buildings.

Nicely put!

More on the collapse from the NYTimes’ Fort Greene Blog.