Smile everyone, because Google is on a summer road trip, and it's taking America's street-level group photo from cameras mounted on its fleet of Chevy Cobalts (which I have taken the liberty of shortening to GoogleBalt for this article). As this day-in-the-life view from the road is currently being captured, it's becoming apparent very early on that this is more than just an added tool to Google Maps. It's also an anthropological snapshot of America, and an emerging social experiment as photos begin to emerge of people who are literally interacting with the Cobalts (any performance artists out there?). It is also shaping up as a physical representation of Google's own crawling and indexing process, like a very strange dream experienced by overworked search engine optimizers and engineers, one where the Googlebot is a car, and the growing data corpus is a photo album of America's exterior.
But a search dream this is not. The Street View feature was added to Google Maps in May, and it shows a full 360-degree view of locations at the street level, captured by one of the many roving Cobalts equipped with rooftop cameras - sort of like Google Earth at the ground level. A privacy dialogue has arisen, but so have a few fan sites; and Gizmodo is tracking GoogleBalt sightings. No matter where you are, with Street View you can see full views of the Golden Gate Bridge, drive down Lombard Street, or hang with Darth Vader and a storm trooper in front of Hollywood's Walk of Fame.
The GoogleBalt has already crawled much of San Francisco, as well as parts of Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego and Orlando. There have been other rumored sightings in Memphis, Boise, Chicago, Louisville and beyond. Along the way it has captured many interesting scenes in daily American life, including people in various forms of attire doing various things, and many popular landmarks. As mentioned above, sites like StreetViewFun.com have made it something of a sport to report these odd and interesting photos from the Street View database.
While pondering all of the interest around Street View, I began to wonder how people in our image-conscious society would change their behavior if they knew that the GoogleBalt was coming by to take their picture for the collective Maps photo album -- especially knowing that it might not be back to shoot again for a while. Here's a definition of what this could be like:
Street View "optimization" is the act of modifying or adjusting one's appearance or façade specifically for the GoogleBalt camera, for the purposes of enhanced visibility in Google Maps. This includes the concealing of any personal habits, picking or scratching, particularly any time a Chevy Cobalt drives by, or by purposefully choosing non-street view locations to undertake these habits to avoid a potential encounter with the camera. It also includes covering up any street-viewable areas using curtains or devices, altering the façade on one street-facing property with signage or visually enhanced features, as well as intentionally posing for the camera.
As the GoogleBalt makes it way to your street or boulevard this summer, consider these five tips for optimizing yourself, or your property's visibility, in Google Maps:
Don't grow pot on your window sill. This is still considered black-hat by federal, state and municipal governments. Apparently, two
separate crawls captured both the garden and the bust on subsequent days.
If you must relieve
yourself outside, try not to do it from the street. Or you might become an Internet star.
Don't buy paid advertising on billboards near landmarks or bus stops for the purpose of inflating your visibility in Google Street View. This may be perceived in the same way as buying links, and a direct manipulation of the engine of this sort and could result in a penalty, or cause your Street View listing to be ignored altogether. If you paid for advertising for the sole purpose of impressions only, then your added Google Street View/Maps visibility is an ancillary benefit.
Have any of your own optimization tips? Spotted any interesting photos? Know of any GoogleBalt sightings? Post them in the Search Insider blog.
Dress for success. You're on camera at least 20 times a day, so, as this shot reminds us, put on your best duds before stepping out. If you're letting it all hang out in public, then an observer at StreetViewFun.com might create a post.
Blinds and curtains are the new robots.txt. Some public views of your humble abodes may be a little too close to the camera for comfort. In this case, curtains and shades are the closest thing to "noindex,nofollow" that you will find.