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Mapping campus, a Google odyssey

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Without ever stepping foot on campus, prospective students can tour universities, current students can find their class locations, and alumni can stroll down memory lane -- all through Google Street View.

The Google Maps feature launched in Canada at the beginning of October. The technology allows Internet users a 360-degree panoramic street-level view of cities across Canada, including Calgary.

While Google Street View already covers a handful of university campuses in the United States, many Canadian universities are showing interest -- the University of Calgary is not among them.

"We have no current plants to feature it, but that could change," said David Johnston, U of C associate vice-provost enrolment and registrar.

The advantages of having an entire campus accessible on Google Street View are plentiful, said Greg Block, San Diego State University media relations director.

SDSU became the first campus to be featured on Google Street View this September.

"First, and the most practical application, it enables people who are new to campus to see where they are going, before they get there," said Block. "Alumni can now look back and see how the campus has changed. They can spend time exploring the campus, their old favourite spots and buildings."

Block said the technology has been used to guide people to special events on campus, show media where to park for press conferences, and showcase the beauty of the campus.

"Down the road, I envision different people and departments on campus using the technology in different ways," said Block.

The Google Street View trike, described by Google as "a mechanical masterpiece made of three bicycle wheels, a mounted Street View camera and a very athletic cyclist," captures images of entire campuses and other places that cannot be reached by car.

"We've seen a great deal of interest and enthusiasm for Street View wherever we've launched and we hope to take the Street View trike to new areas to improve Street View coverage," said Google Canada spokeswoman Wendy Rozeluk.

The trike collects images of public pedestrian walkways, while the collection of imagery for privately owned destinations is made possible by signed agreements.

"We have received many requests for the Street View trike already in Canada, including from universities," said Rozeluk, adding that there are no confirmed dates for when the trike may come to Canada.

Google Street View images are available of the public roads surrounding the U of C campus and three roads through campus, but the trike would be necessary to cover the rest of campus.

The U of C's Johnston said when the time is right, discussions about further utilizing Google Street View may be interesting to have.

Whether it is Google Street View or a different technology, he said the opportunity for prospective students to view campus before coming is a significant one, but stressed it is still important for new students to actually visit.

Rozeluk said if the U of C were interested in requesting coverage by the trike, it would need to be submitted to Google and forwarded to Google's Special Collections team, in preparation for when the trike may be coming to Canada.

Back at SDSU, Block said privacy issues or other concerns related to Google Street View have been nonexistent.

"It's been very exciting and fun," said Block of the Street View images of campus.

"I've seen people post their actual office locations on Twitter. Ultimately, it'll be the creativity of the end users that really makes this a powerful tool for us."

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