Google Street View's Time Travel Function Lets You Browse a Location's History Going Back Decades

Times Square in New York City.
Times Square in New York City. / moniquee2/iStock via Getty Image

Google Street View is the closest humans can get to instant transportation. With the click of a mouse, users can hop from the mountains of the Swiss Alps to the halls of the Guggenheim Museum in the span of a few seconds. The online tool is also the closest thing we have to a time machine. According to WIRED, Google Street View allows users to peruse location-specific imagery going back decades.

Google's massive database of street-level photography doubles as a historical archive. To take advantage of it, search the address of the place you wish to explore on Google Maps. Dragging the yellow figure out of the bottom corner and placing it on the map launches Street View. As you drag the icon, areas with Street View data will be highlighted in blue.

The tool shows the most up-to-date information for the location by default. If Google has older images in its archives, you'll see a clock symbol next to the date the photographs were taken. Clicking on it lets you jump through the Street View history of that spot. The intersection of West 43rd Street and 7th Avenue in Times Square, for example, has data stretching back to 2009. Clicking on the previous dates shows you the area's old advertisements and the now-defunct Toys "R" Us building that once operated on the corner.

Browsing Google Street View's archives is a fun way to see how places have changed over time. Though the function works best with well-trafficked addresses with a lot of data, you can try using it to travel back in time in your current town. Google's 360° cameras may have paid a visit to your home before you lived there. You can also search for a previous place of residency and see if your younger self makes an appearance.

In addition to the browser site, Google's time travel feature is accessible through the Google Maps app on Android and iOS. Just drop a pin and tap it on the mobile version to bring up Street View, then go to the See More Dates link to view that location's history. If you can't pick a place to explore first, here are some possibilities.

[h/t WIRED]