Brits go mad for Google Street View

Last Thursday Google launched its Street View mapping service in the UK, which enables anyone to look at 360 degree views of 25 British cities. Hitwise reckoned that Google Maps UK had its busiest day ever, with visits to Google Maps UK up by 41%.

The company spent almost a year collecting the images, with a fleet of modified cars crawling along 22,369 miles of road, taking tens of millions of pictures. By all accounts last year's very wet summer created lots of problems and already the views of many high streets look weirdly out of date because since the images were taken, so many household names have gone bust, including Woolworths and Zavvi.

There have been some complaints about privacy invasion, but Google's technology blurs car licence plates and faces.

Brits have had a ball checking out where they live/went to school/where famous album covers were shot/ et al. It will be a great boon for hard pushed estate agents - prospective home buyers can have a good look at the location without leaving their sitting room and one large chain has already incorporated Google Street View into its own website.

Charles Arthur, writing in the Guardian,summed up the biggest deal of all, though. He wrote,

"But what's overlooked, and has gone completely unremarked in all the frothy searches for 'funny photos', is that this is also a masterstroke that tightens Google's near-complete monopoly on how we look for things. The executives at Microsoft and Yahoo, its would-be competitors in the linked fields of web searching and maps, must be grinding their teeth to dust.

"Microsoft has had 3D maps of cities since May 2007; even Amazon had done something similar. But they have all stumbled. Microsoft, aiming as ever to preserve its own monopoly, required you to download and install its own custom-written software to get its 'Virtual Earth' view in the browser; Google, by contrast, relies on Adobe's Flash technology, which is already installed in some form on 99% of browsers. Google wins by exploiting someone else's monopoly; Microsoft fails by trying to exploit its own.

"And Yahoo is a distant third: the company is struggling, having made a loss of $278m (£192m) on revenues of $1.8bn in its most recent financial quarter. Worse, its new chief executive Carol Bartz [Yahoo's CEO] has called into question the whole rationale of Yahoo's own maps operation: she prefers Google's."