Hope and change has come to Google Maps. The official residence of the vice president, obscured until Dick Cheney's last days in office and residence, now shines in satellite sunlight.
A reader tipped us off that Google Maps now showed a clear overhead image of One Observatory Circle (below), the address which has served as the home of the vice president since 1974. It's the first glimpse Google users have gotten of the place. Kate Hurowitz, a Google spokeswoman, explained in an email:
Google Earth and Maps are regularly updated as new imagery becomes available. Our most recent update, which went live last week, included updated imagery of the Washington D.C. area from several providers. The imagery of the Naval Observatory comes from Digital Globe.
The changeover happened on January 18 in Google Earth, the search engine's 3D mapping service, and on Thursday in Google Maps. In other words, the vice president's house was revealed on Google the same week Cheney moved out and Joe Biden moved in.
For the past four years, since Google first began introducing high-resolution satellite imagery into Google Earth and Google Maps, people have noticed that Cheney's house remained obscured (top photo), even as the White House itself could be seen clearly. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote in 2005:
The vice president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive that if you use Google Earth's database to see his official residence, the view is scrambled and obscured. You can view satellite photos of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol - but not of the Lord of the Underworld's lair.
Questioned about the blurring at the time, Google flacks said that the map images were displayed unaltered from the source — in this case, the U.S. Geological Survey.
The new, detailed images of the Naval Observatory grounds are still not quite as crisp as their surroundings, a difference Google's Hurowitz attributes to the difference in quality between aerial and satellite images, not any deliberate alteration of the map, as was the case when Dowd noted Cheney's willful obscurantism.
Could there be a better visual metaphor for the change of administration? The old one hid behind blurry pixels. The new one welcomes a close look.