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Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps and Google Earth that provides panoramic views of many streets in the world. Google has fleets of vehicles that drive around and snap pictures of as many streets as possible. They even get around using bicycles in some cases. All of these individual images are digitally patched together as best as possible, to create wide, sweeping pictures of the streets at ground levels. The combination of technologies that makes this possible is quite ingenious.

However, as is true with just about all technology, cameras are not perfect, they are often misused by their handlers, they are subject to glitches and artifacts, and Google Street View is no exception to any of these instances. It is within this “noise” that the wonderful world of paranormal and pseudoscience grows and evolves, like a fungus in the darkest, dampest nooks and crannies of society.

Helping to keep the public’s mind off of (or out of) reality, The Telegraph served up a pair of headlines this past week, which read “Victorian ‘ghost’ picked up by Google Street View” and “ET tracked down on Google Street View”.


From the Victorian ‘ghost’ story:

“Experts have been called in to examine the Google ghoul filmed at a former Victorian docklands which has a dark and sinister past … the scene of murders and unsolved mysteries going back 200 years.”

Called in? Who called? Google called? Do folks at Google think this is an apparition that they can’t otherwise explain? I suppose these are the kinds of questions get in the way of the reporters and editors work at The Telegraph.

Exactly which “experts” were called. What is their expertise? Perhaps they mean people such as Jane Cohen:

“Local medium Jane Cohen, 39, said: “Apparitions have often been caught on film but are invisible to the naked eye. “This woman is very smart – but she is dressed in clothes that you just don’t see these days unless it’s in a period drama on TV. But what is really strange is that she doesn’t appear as a full figure – you can’t see all of her.”

Jane, you can’t see all of her because the image itself is a composite of skewed pictures pasted together as best as Google Street View could render. Even to the technologically impaired, you can easily make out the clear lines of distinction between the individual images. Just look at those concrete posts, and how they go askew. Look at the pavers in the street and how they change in size and angle. The only thing “really strange”, to borrow your words, Jane, is that you can’t figure this out without resorting to the paranormal. The ‘ghost’ in the image is a person, and that the person was dressed unconventionally does not make him or her any less of a person or any more of a ghost.


And then there is their ET article, which reads:

“A misty shape, bearing a distinct similarity to the movie alien, was captured behind a bush next to a mysterious beam of light.”

And the token quote was provided, not by a Google Street View representative, but rather a local crank:

“Malcolm Robinson, head of the Strange Phenomena Investigations, described the image as “the first of its kind”. He said “On close inspection the similarities with ET are obvious but it’s hard to say with any certainty what exactly it is…Of added interest is the strange beam of light to the right, which I cannot explain either…Without further details to go on I’m really stumped. We’d all love it to be alien, but that’s a big assumption.”

And his fellow crank was also quoted:

“Nick Sawyer, one of many web-users to have spotted the alien-like creature, added: “Whatever it is, you cannot deny that it looks exactly like ET…The head is an oblong shape and it seems to have the same long neck and fat body. There is also a beam of light right next to him, who knows, that might be an unseen spaceship trying to make contact.”

This is news?! Why is ANY of this news? These are such low-rag stories that are not worth the ones and zeroes that go into comprising the words and images.

Perhpas the lone takeaway from these stories is the forewarning that we are going to have access to more of these kinds of images, and hence, more of these kinds of news stories, especially as Google Street View becomes more prominent. We can hope that improvements in technology in the coming years will correct these rendering issues that GSV is encountering, but until then, ghosts, ETs, leprechauns, and fairies will be appearing all over the streets of the world.

One of Webster’s Dictionary’s definitions of the word ‘Ghoul’ includes “one who shows morbid interest in things considered shocking or repulsive”. I think an argument could be made that modern media treats mythology, superstition, nonsense with an interest that approaches morbid, is sometimes shocking, and too often repulsive. Maybe it is the nature of the beast.

2 comments to Ghoulgle

  • DLC

    Hm… news for the credulous ?

    the first one’s just a poor photo-merge.
    The second one looks like a video artifact, probably due to slow exposure time on a digital camera. Any “alien” in the picture is just paradolia. I think you’re right. With cheap digital cameras and the internet combined we’ll see a lot more of these.

  • Rienk

    Awesome, my new home town… as the Torygraph article noticed, that location is actually the secret Torchwood entrance. On my night runs I sometimes see film crews at that exact spot. But seriously, is anyone surprised by a photo merge effect of a unfashionably dressed Welsh lady? I’m not.

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