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March 13, 2008 4:43 PM

Nanaimo gaga for Google

Posted by Brier Dudley

The Vancouver Island city has been dubbed the capital of Google Earth, according to a story in Time magazine that I found via CNET.

An excerpt:

"The city's planning department has, over the past five years, steadily fed Google a wealth of information about its buildings, property lines, utilities and streets. The result is, a clearinghouse of city data viewed through the robust and freely available Google Earth 3D mapping program. The site sorts and maps every business, from restaurants to car dealers, while a click of the mouse brings up the lot size for every property in the city, including the building permit number and zoning history. Homeowners can use the facility to find out specific information about their garbage collection schedule, while the city's 150-year-old downtown core is rendered in 3D and dotted with 360-degree panoramas."

The problem is, many residents don't realize what's been going on, the article notes.

It doesn't say much about the touchy subject of a municipality helping a company in the business of targeted advertising.

The site is an interesting blend of Google Earth's interface, images and zooming capabilities with public records.

You can click on a building to see its zoning or permit history, for instance, but only summaries are provided. You can't click through to see the actual records, or additional records attached to the properties such as valuation, the way you can with in-house, online GIS systems like those used by Seattle and King County.

Maybe that limitation is to assuage privacy concerns, but it seems to limit the usefulness of the service to residents, who still have to go down to the courthouse to get all the details. Or maybe I'm impatient with the experiment, or not familiar with Canadian public records disclosure.

Still, it might be a nice way to plot a journey around the town if you're waiting for the next ferry back to the mainland.

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Gadgets and games | Fun stuff I've written about lately includes Apple's iPhone, Hewlett-Packard's HDX laptop and Microsoft's Halo3. Also on the radar are new digital video boxes such as the Tivo HD and the Vudu.