Mapping the roadways of the world isn't enough for Google, which announced its Street View program is headed for wilderness hiking trails.
Like much about the Internet, this sounds like both a blessing and a curse. After all, Google Street View can be accessed equally by lost motorists and burglars.
Now, with Google's Street View Trekker endeavor, the thrill of discovering what's over that next hill can be completely nullified with a few minutes of computer work. The company reported recently that it's outfitting hikers with 40-pound backpacks containing the multi-lensed Street View cameras and sending them off to the back-country.
Soon you'll be able to take virtual strolls up and down trails in the Grand Canyon and other hiking destinations. Of course, the Internet is already full of mind-numbing, detailed video journeys through various wilderness areas. But Google's service adds the interaction aspect, allowing viewers to click on arrows to see and zoom in on spots of special interest.
As the database of Street View Trekker trails gets built up, people will use it to look up a particular hike before embarking on it, either out of idle curiosity or overly anal planning. Then there's the office-chair-traveler option to "hike" a trail without ever leaving the house.
No doubt, there'll be plenty of fun speculation about what's hiding in the brush in some of those pictures, ie. Bigfoot or extra-large coatimundi? For trails in southern Arizona, like the one leading to the summit of Table Top Mountain in the Vekol Valley, wanna-be Border Patrol commandos could even try to spot smugglers and undocumented migrants.
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We have to admit, even if it takes some of the discovery element out of a hike, it'll be neat to know the exact location of, say, a rock wall full of petroglyphs. Of course, vandals and other jerks could get the same info, just as it's feared by some that Street View could be used by terrorists.
There's no sense worrying about it, though -- it's Google's Earth, and we just live in it.