Is this your backyard? It could be—it could be online for everyone to see thanks to Street View, one of Google Maps newer features.

The program, first implemented for select cities in 2007, has spawned several privacy-related controversies over the unscrupulous capture of everything from celebrities and cats in windows to domestic violence shelters and men leaving strip clubs. (A good list of early responses to Street View is available on the Boingboing tech blog.)

Nonetheless, if you haven’t used Street View, you should at least give it a looksee. The program offers more than just a way to explore neighbours yards. Street View also allows you to see the streetside sights of Tokyo, London, Paris, and numerous other cities for free by providing an interactive worms-eye view to complement Google Maps’ birds-eye. Google streetcars have already patrolled cities across all continents save Antarctica, and their reach expands daily:

Starting Street View is easy. Just open google map, zoom to the preferred urban locale. Now grab the orange “pegman” (the little guy standing above the zoom bar) and drag-and-drop him onto the highlighted section of asphalt you’d like to visit. (For more help, Google offers several videos to teach new users how to navigate Street View.)

If you’ve chosen a road near a landmark, like the Eiffel tower, Big Ben, and so on, Google has added an extra feature to enhance your experience. Namely, photodecks drawn from google images. The decks offer pictures of your preferred locale under different lighting and weather conditions, and from closer-up; and as you navigate around, the photo-decks change to match your perspective.

Your experience is limited only by your monitor’s resolution—and the fact you’re not actually there to enjoy the sounds, smells, and climate that accompanies the sights. But Google might one day change that too, making things a little bit more real, and creepier.

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