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One more look into the fascinating New York City Municipal Archives, and their recently-released database of over 870,000 photos throughout the 20th century, a follow-up to this earlier entry. Their subjects include daily life, construction, crime, city business, aerial photographs, and more. Today's selection from this remarkable collection includes numerous street scenes that are visible today through Google Maps Street Views, and links are provided to let you see the difference the years have made. [50 photos]

Lower Manhattan skyline at night, seen beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, Brooklyn end in February of 1938. See this scene today in this Google Map street view. (E. M. Bofinger/Courtesy NYC Municipal Archives)

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Google Maps Cube screenshot

We've seen games based on the playground that is Google Maps, but now there's an official one. It's called Cube, and in typical Google fashion, it all runs in your web browser. The game itself is very simple — just tilt the surface of the cube to roll a marble around the map, bumping into (newly-enhanced) 3D landmarks and buildings in cities like New York, San Fransisco, Paris, London, and Las Vegas to get to your target as quickly as possible. Of course, the whole thing is a bit of a promotion for Google Maps, and each level shows off features in the service like traffic, bike maps, and navigation. Whether or not that sounds fun to you is a different matter altogether, but it's an impressive demo of some of the power modern browsers...

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8-bit Google Maps

If you go to Google Maps right now, there's an option in the top right corner for a Quest view. Click on that, and get the world in all its 8-bit NES glory. And great news: The map adventure is coming to an NES console near you. Just put in the cartridge, connect to the Internet via dial-up, and you're off to the races. See the world like you've never seen it before.

Google explains in the video below.

Update: There are also a lot of Easter eggs. [via]

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App Engine introduction

Iein describes how App Engine can be used to build mobile apps and web apps, taking care of scalability, machine management, and load balancing.

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Have you started seeing images in online reCAPTCHAs that look suspiciously like house numbers pulled from Google Street View? Well, as it turns out, that’s exactly what they are. Google confirmed it’s currently running an experiment that involves using its reCAPTCHA spam-fighting system to improve data in Google Maps by having users identify things like street names and business addresses.

reCAPTCHA, for those unfamiliar, is the system originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University to improve upon the use of CAPTCHAs (aka, the “Completely Automated Public Turing Test To Tell Computers and Humans Apart”) – it’s the distorted text meant to stop bots from signing up for online accounts. The reCAPTCHA technology was acquired by Google in 2009, and if you use the web, you’ve definitely used it before. It’s what puts those security questions on websites that ask you to identify the words and numbers in the pictures displayed to verify you’re human.

The system is designed to cut down on spam and fraud, but it also helps digitize the text in printed materials, like books and newspapers. Google has been using reCAPTCHA to digitize content for Google Books, for example, as well as for the Google News archives.

Over the past few days, however, some users have been seeing another type of reCAPTCHA appear – photographs. The new reCAPTCHAs present an image where one side contains the warped text users are familiar with, while the other side shows a somewhat blurry (as if zoomed in) photo of numbers. The numbers are clearly street addresses, which has led to some speculation that Google was pulling these from Google Street View.

One place where this new reCAPTCHA has been known to pop up is on Google’s AdWords website, and specifically on the page hosting the keyword tool. You won’t always see this new reCAPTCHA, though – I refreshed this page a dozen or more times this morning, for example, and still couldn’t get it to appear. Your mileage may vary.

The above image is one example of what the new reCAPTCHAs look like.

A larger collection of these images also recently appeared on the Blackhatworld forums (below):

According to a Google spokesperson, the system isn’t limited to street addresses, but also involves street names and even traffic signs. We haven’t spotted any of those other types in the wild, though.

Says Google:

We’re currently running an experiment in which characters from Street View images are appearing in CAPTCHAs. We often extract data such as street names and traffic signs from Street View imagery to improve Google Maps with useful information like business addresses and locations. Based on the data and results of these reCaptcha tests, we’ll determine if using imagery might also be an effective way to further refine our tools for fighting machine and bot-related abuse online.

Although many users are just now noticing the new images appear, Google says the experiment actually began a couple of weeks ago.

Image credit: Ian for the top photo; Blackhatworld user “dirtbag” (heh.)

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waderoush writes "Google wants to 'organize the world's information,' but there isn't a marketplace or a category of knowledge it can organize without remaking it in the process. A case in point: public transportation. Largely outside the media spotlight, Google has wrought a quiet revolution over the last five years in the way commuters get schedule information for local buses and trains, and the way public transit agencies communicate with their riders. GTFS and GTFS-realtime, which Google invented, have become the de facto world standards for sharing transit data, and have opened up space for a whole ecosystem of third-party transit app developers. This in-depth article looks at the history of GTFS and Google's efforts to give people information (largely via their smartphones) that can help them plan their commutes on public transportation — and, not incidentally, drive a lot less."

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New York redesign

Google Maps is one of Google's best applications, but the time, energy, and thought put into designing it often goes unnoticed because of how easy it is to use, for a variety of purposes. Willem Van Lancker, a user experience and visual designer for Google Maps, describes the process of building a map application — color scheme, icons, typography, and "Googley-ness" — that practically everyone can use, worldwide.

We have worked (and driven) around the world to create a "map" that is a collection of zoom levels, imagery, angles, and on-the-ground panoramas all wrapped into one. Through these varied snapshots of our world, we are attempting to sew together a more seamless picture of the Earth—from its natural beauty to the surprising (and often absurd) details that make it our unique home. As our work progresses, new technologies give us the opportunity to get away from the limitations and complexity of standard cartography to provide a much more approachable and easy-to-understand map, loaded with data and information.

Remember when we had to refresh the page to see more of map?

[Core77 via @awoodruff]

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It is often the case in interaction design that the best solutions simply get out of the way, allowing the user to achieve their goal and get on with their life. With Google Maps, this is certainly the desired outcome. Geographic navigation and search should be smooth, efficient, and ultimately straightforward. When this is successful and the product works as it should, the nuances and details behind these experiences can often go unnoticed, written off as algorithmically derived and invisible.

Since its launch in 2004, Google Maps has come a long way from its relatively simple beginnings as a simple pannable and zoomable road map of the United States and United Kingdom. Today we display business and transit networks, three dimensional cities, natural terrain, and much more. It is a map that serves pedestrians, motorists, tourists and locals alike. Soon it was not only used it as a "clean" map for wayfinding and browsing but also as a base for overlays, search results, directions, and personal customization—with sources from all over the web. In the same vein as Google's mission, we are organizing the world's information in a geographic context.

The work and evolution behind this ambitious undertaking is a combination of design vision, product strategy, engineering prowess, and ethnographic and usability research. Our User Experience team comprises a small group of designers, researchers and prototypers in offices around the globe. The research and experience gained in these diverse locations give us insights into real-world usage and help us better serve the needs of our users.

The breadth of our collective work, whether it's anything from helping a local business connect more meaningfully with their customers to helping you find your gate at the airport on time, is harmonized by our common goal to deliver a more complete picture of the Earth. From its roadways and cities to weather patterns and natural wonders, our team is attempting to capture the complexity and variance of these multiple systems in a product that just about anyone can use.

To accomplish this vision, we work in our studios flipping between sketchbooks and whiteboards, Photoshop and Fireworks, visualizing user scenarios and creating new design concepts quickly and in high-fidelity. We complement this process by hacking rendering specs and tweaking Javascript to produce interactive demos. Occasionally, we will even turn to programs like Apple Keynote and Adobe After Effects to quickly demonstrate interactive transitions and animations. These lightweight models give us the ability to test and experiment with highly interactive designs without demanding the resources of a full engineering team. As the design process continues, these prototypes (and static design mocks) are crucial in our early "cafe" usability studies where we often walk a user through a single-outcome user "journey" (e.g. getting directions or finding a hotel).

1.jpegA snapshot of Google Maps' design evolution 2009 (top) - 2011 (bottom). click for more information.

Synthesizing all of this information in an approachable and aesthetically pleasing way carried obvious challenges. As the product grew and evolved, the map varied widely from one country to another, and the universal familiarity and usability that made Google Maps a success was being undermined by complexity and "feature creep." To better understand which of these variances were useful, we audited the map styles, colors, and iconography of maps all over the world with the help of local users. We examined the leading online and offline mapping providers in each country, in addition to researching local physical signage and wayfinding. This undertaking provided us with a look at mapping as a local exercise—with cultural, ethnic, and region-specific quirks and nuances.

2.jpegOur global cartography audit in progress.

With this research in mind, we came to the realization that there was little consistency between this collection of maps and no real indication of a common "correct" palette for color and style rendering. By unifying and simplifying our own Google color palette down from hundreds to a small handful of colors, we were able to produce an experience that provided familiarity and uniformity as you browse the world.

3.jpegA sampling of our color palette studies and refinement.


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