This Google Street View photo was taken on Half Moon Island, a popular cruise ship stop in Antarctica's Shetland Islands.
Google Street View, the popular but controversial technology that provides panoramic, street-level views of locations across the globe, is adding a penguin feather to its cap. As of today, its images encompass all seven continents - including Antarctica.
Launched in 2007 with images of five U.S. cities available through Google Maps (and a year later, Google Earth), Street View has broadened its coverage to 25 countries and Antarctica's South Shetland Islands. (Along with Antarctica, the most recent expansion brings Ireland and Brazil - South America's only representative - into the fold.)
With its up-close, 360-degree perspectives, Google Street View has been a goldmine for virtual vacationers, from the ski slopes of Vancouver's Winter Olympics to Britain, where one bloke planned to 'travel," pixel by pixel, one end of the island to the other. Expedia's new U.K. offering, ExpediaHotelView, lets travelers search for and compare hotels within a map that incorporates Street View.
MIT grad Joe McMichael has even launched what's been described as a "Chatroulette for travel nerds." (For non-nerds, travel or otherwise, Chatroulette is a website that connects people serendipitously via webcam; McMichael's Globe Genie lets you choose a continent, click "shuffle," and be transported to a random spot in that location.)
However, Street View has also sparked widespread privacy fears. Earlier this month, the Czech Republic prevented Google from collecting additional Street View information.
And when Google announced plans to photograph streets and buildings in 20 of Germany's largest cities by the end of this year, "such was the scale of the outcry in this privacy-conscious country that Google granted a unique concession, allowing homeowners to request that images of their property be pixelated (the company automatically does this to the faces of individuals)," writes The Economist.
But chances are Street View won't raise many hackles on Antarctica's Half Moon Island, a popular cruise ship stop where Google's Brian McClendon took 10 panoramic images of snow-covered peaks and chinstrap penguins. As someone who's been there in real life, I'm duly impressed - and enticed to return.
Laura Bly, USA TODAY