Boston’s Faneuil Hall Is a Finalist for Google Street View Visit—Vote Now, Then Meet Trike Builder Dan Ratner

Being journalists, we here at Xconomy try to refrain from bald political statements or endorsements. We’d never ask you to “vote early and often” for any candidate for office. But this week we can cheerfully recommend that you subvert the democratic process by going to and voting as many times as you can for Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace as the next U.S. pedestrian mall to be photographed by Google’s tricycle-borne Street View crew.

Street View, as most Google users know, is the Google Maps feature that gives you a panoramic visual preview of places you may plan to visit in person. Using a fleet of camera-equipped cars, Google has collected 360-degree, street-level views for hundreds of cities in all 50 U.S. states and quite a few countries around the world. But until recently, those views haven’t extended into pedestrian malls, parks, hiking trails, and other areas where cars are off limits.

That’s changing thanks to the Street View Trike, a contraption dreamed up a couple of years ago by Google senior mechanical engineer Dan Ratner. The trikes are essentially pedicabs that Google has converted to carry the standard Street View camera and computer equipment. Ratner and his crew have already used the trikes to create Street View images of places like California’s Legoland (just north of San Diego), and in an October post on the official Google blog, Ratner invited users to say where they’d like to see the trikes go next.

Faneuil Hall, BostonThe company got 25,000 nominations, and on Monday it announced that it had picked 24 finalists in five categories. Faneuil Hall is a finalist in the pedestrian malls category. It’s pitted against Chicago’s Navy Pier and San Francisco’s Pier 39.

Now, without insulting our friends in the Windy City and the Golden Gate, I think it’s fair to say that Faneuil Hall is the only historically significant place on that list. Pier 39 is a mall-on-stilts built in the 1970s that owes most of its fame to the sea lions who have adopted it as their home, and Navy Pier was basically an abandoned eyesore until its redevelopment in the 1990s. So Boston’s historic “cradle of liberty”—the site of fiery oratory by the fathers of the revolution—should clearly be the first of these locations to get the Google Trike treatment.

Google users get to vote for the winners in each category. According to the company, you can vote as many times as you like—but you’ve only got until midnight on Monday, November 30. So stop reading this now and go vote!

To get the whole scoop on the Google Trike and how it’s changing the face of Google Street View, I talked with Dan Ratner himself on Tuesday.

Do you think the Google Trike helps to put a human face on Street View, which has sometimes run into public skepticism and misunderstandings?

Dan Ratner: Let me put it this way. Every time I’ve been out there on the bike—which is quite a number of times now—there’s been a lot of excitement. People are like, “Wow, this is Google Street View? I’ve seen that, but I didn’t know how you get the data!” Seeing a bicycle does seem to put a human face on it, literally, because … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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