It’s been quite a 24 hours or so for Google, what with Google Reader getting the axe and Android head Andy Rubin stepping aside. Despite that, Google is back to doing one of the things it does best — providing greater access to information in emerging markets — after announced plans to bring Street View to Bhutan, a little-known country near India which will become its 49th market.
Working with the support of the Ministry of Information and Communications of Bhutan, the Internet giant says its distinctive Street View cars have begun hitting the roads in capital city Thimpu today. Plans are afoot to expand coverage across the country “over the next few years” and, as ever, the project is likely to take a while to bear fruit.
For those that are somehow not familiar with it, Street View is a feature of Google Maps which provides 360 degree street-level images from mapped locations. As was the case with the launches in Indonesia and Thailand last year, Google and the local authorities are emphasizing the tourism potential; that’s pretty apt give that Bhutan is generally not a country that is well known worldwide.
Governments have traditionally been cautious of the privacy issues that Street View throws up, but Dasho Kinley Dorji, Secretary of Ministry of Information and Communications, explains Bhutan’s thinking — which is increasingly echoed by others in the developing world:
The Internet has opened up many opportunities for everyone to learn about Bhutan, making it a valuable source of information for people around the world that are interested in visiting our country. We’re excited about bringing Google Maps with Street View to Bhutan because it will allow more people to discover Bhutan and help them plan their journeys to our country.
Google says it “goes to great lengths to safeguard privacy”, which is always a key issue (Google just copped a $7 million for collecting personal data). A statement from Product Manager Divon Lan explains that the project aspires to “create better awareness of this unique country and attract more tourism”.
Street View is available in 48 markets worldwide. In Asia, that includes Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Thailand. Bringing Bhutan into that group will put it on the map — both figuratively and literally.
The service isn’t ready just yet, but, when it is, you’ll be able to find the images at maps.google.bt.
TechCrunch has an excellent feature that provides plenty of background on Street View and how it developed.