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Want to time travel? Google has created the next best thing

This illustration provided by Google highlights a new Google Maps Street View snapshots feature, which allow users to see what specific neighborhoods and landmarks looked like at different periods during the past seven years that Google Inc. has been dispatching camera-toting cars to take pictures for its maps. This image shows what the under construction One World Trade Center in New York looked like in April 2009, left, and August 2013, right.


Google has built a time machine. Okay, not quite, but it's new Street View feature, which launched Wednesday, is about as close as the Internet has come to enabling time travel.

When you launch Street View in Google Maps (just drag that little yellow guy at the bottom right of the screen to your location) a window opens on the top left of the screen giving you the option to look at the same view as far back as 2007, when Google first started taking street-level pictures of cities around the world.

"It paints a picture of how the world has been. It's a mirror of the world across time," Vinay Shet, product manager for Street View, told the CBC.

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"Our original goal with Street View was to build a map that is useful, accurate and comprehensive," She told Time. "So we've been capturing these snapshots, and we thought, let's use all this data and create something that users will love, that will be exploratory, and hopefully will be useful."

Even if it's not useful, it can be a fun trip down memory lane. Toggle through the years and you can watch skyscrapers go up in your city, or take a look at projects and changes in other parts of the world, like seeing the new World Trade Centre be built in New York City.

Time has put together timelapse videos of several projects around the world using the new feature, including a World Cup stadium being built in Brazil and a massive resort taking over the skyline in Singapore.

Google obviously intended the feature to be used in a spirit of playful fun. Just look at what they did to Pegman, the tiny yellow avatar in Maps.

"As part of an 'Easter Egg' in the feature, Pegman is going to be dressed up as Doc Brown from Back to the Future. That gives you a sense of what we're trying to achieve," Aaron Brindle, a spokesperson for Google Canada, told the Toronto Star.

Google has driven more than five-million miles in 50 countries in the past seven years in its mission to photograph the world for Maps, meaning there is plenty to see as you travel back in time.

Many locations, however, may have only been photographed once, or not at all, so the new function may not apply to every address you search. But no one ever said time travel was going to be perfect.

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About the Author

Dave McGinn writes about fitness trends for the Life section and also reports for Globe Arts. Prior to joining the Globe, he was a freelance journalist, covering topics from trying to eat Michael Phelps' diet to why the Joker is the best villain in comics history. He's working on improving his 10k time. More


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