The Street View feature in Google Maps, actual photos taken by one of its vehicles equipped with nine cameras that take a series photos as it drives down a road that can be assembled into a panorama, is my candidate for the most useful tech innovation of the past few years.
Like many innovations, however, I've wondered how Google plans to make money to justify the expense of its fleet of camera equipped cars. Now we see at least part of the grand strategy -- selling advertising space on the billboards that appear in the photos in Street View.
According to Frederic Lardinois of ReadWriteWeb.com, Google has been granted a patent on the tech that will allow it to replace the ad copy on any roadside billboard which appears in a Street View photo with a new ad. This is truly genius, especially for selling local ads.
I can see a local bike shop buying the billboard that appears above a competitor's shop. Proud parents buying the billboard nearest their house to announce that their child has graduated from college, or received parole. Amusement parks buying spots to reassure drivers that they are only X minutes away from the delight of long lines on hot asphalt.
Many of us have found the smart phone version of Google Maps a reasonable alternative to a GPS unit, and when connectivity is more widespread and the pipeline bigger, Google Street View could be a valuable tool for the traveler. This means that Street View billboards will be profitable property.
It also brings up an interesting question: does the owner of a billboard own the image of its billboard? For example, Clear Channel Outdoor owns a huge number of billboards, and charges a lot for advertising on them. The image of that billboard, however, will be used by Google to place the advertising it has sold, without sharing the revenue with CCO. Fair? I asked that question of a Clear Channel Outdoor representative, but she has not responded to date.
What if Google decided to monetize the image of your house? Perhaps placing a Viagra ad over the front door of your split-level, or a Go Daddy ad on the bumper of your parked car, or a "Go Packers" sign that covers up the Vikings logo painted on your garage door?
Welcome to the future, a grand place to live -- if you're an attorney.
Billboards in Google Street View may carry Google ads