Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Want to know when Google is adding your area to Street Level View?

Google doesn't tell many people when they are driving around in their cars, photographing an area for Street Level View (I understand Google notifies Women's Shelters and other organizations that are sensitive about exterior photographs of their buildings).  There are several obvious reasons for not being too public about their mapping intentions, of course.  Most importantly, I imagine, is that Google wants to keep their data from being "tampered" with by people who would make some special display specifically for the mapping vehicle (e.g. a "Hi Mom!" banner).

I, however, really want to know anyway.  I live on a small island that relies heavily on tourism.  Our island has many artists and artisans who work out of studios on their own properties.  I would like to have these artists have displays of their work on the ends of their driveways when Google conducts a street level view on our island (our island hasn't been covered yet, but I think it may be covered in the future).  I think it would be good for the locals, and for the tourists who look at our island online.

As I said, google doesn't broadcast where they intend to cover next; but they DO broadcast where they are currently.  Google has a special site that you can visit to see the current location of their vehicles, categorized by country:

As I said, the chart on this page shows the current location and only seems to list the city or general area they are currently mapping.  However, I think it's a start and below I'll show you how you can use this data to get an alert when Google starts mapping a new area in your country.

The method I'll describe here is a very simple one.  The country data on the page above is populated through an XML feed.  I decided to import the data into a Google Docs spreadsheet, and make the spreadsheet notify me via email if the cell that contains the data for my country changes.  The steps I took are as follows:

  1. Create a spreadsheet in Google Docs
  2. In the first cell on the default worksheet (A1) insert the following function:
  3. Select Tools > Notification Rules and add a new rule
  4. Click the checkbox next to "Any of these cells are changed: ".  In the cell range box, put the name of the cell that contains the data for your country (for my country, Canada, the cell was C7)
  5. Click the checkbox next to "Email - Right Away" under "Notify Me With..."
  6. Save your spreadsheet and exit!  
The spreadsheet doesn't poll the source every second, but you should get a notification shortly after the data changes (certainly within the hour).  Again, this isn't exactly "notice", but hopefully it will give you some warning.

If there is a lot of activity in your country (and you're getting too many notifications) you can use the FIND function to locate your area/city name within your country data and then base your notification on the result.