Girdwood’s Google Street View Redo
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
OTC is looking to photograph Girdwood streets spanning Aug. 27-31, with the weekend as a backup if rainy, cloudy conditions are not conducive to bright footage. To get the 360-degree view required by Google, OTC rents an Insta360 Pro, which has six lenses taking five pictures per second. Each image is 8K, offering super high resolution and a massive amount of data to upload.
Google visited Girdwood to capture Street View images in 2011, and is unlikely to return said Kelvin Doyle, the OTC Owner who also runs website girdwood.com.
“Who knows? Google is not coming back,” Doyle said. “I just want to tell everyone we’ll be out, and if you want to try to make Girdwood look good, that’s the day to do it.”
He also said current Street View footage will be up for at least a few years.
“It would be nice if [residents] knew it was going to happen so they can maybe not cut down their flowers too early or maybe clean up the front of their building,” Doyle said. “I’m going to go around telling people it’s coming up. But it might rain this day or the whole week that we’re going to try and do it.”
OTC’s specialties are website management problem solving, web design, photography, video and Street View. In addition, about four years ago, Doyle, Matthew Bailey and others created girdwood.com.
“It was made in the beginning because we had no Girdwood, Alaska on Google or a town website,” Doyle said. “Since I do Google stuff every single day of my life, we had to have a town website for Google.”
Doyle’s diligence with Google has earned him credibility with the ubiquitous online behemoth.
“My [Google] account has been curated for 15 years,” Doyle said. “They trust me hard. When doing the recon for this, they give you a professional certificate as well. I didn’t used to be able to charge money for this. Now I can actually take money. Not only in Street View, I can correct anybody’s map listing anywhere in Alaska, and they’ll be like, ‘Ok, Kelvin’s doing this.’ It’s a really cool side effect to this.”
Search terms “Girdwood” and “Girdwood Alaska” have stayed perched at number one on Google for girdwood.com for some time. Doyle and his staff conduct routine upkeep to add new information and photos to give the website a fresh appearance that is meant to be a useful, functional guide for locals and visitors.
Street View is another part of Google Doyle wants to use to promote the town. Google photographed Girdwood in 2011, but there have been incremental changes over the last seven years. For example, Girdwood Brewing Company and Arlberg Extension are major features that need updating in Street View, among other newer businesses such as Alpine Apothecary, Girdwood Picnic Club, Herbal Cache, Ski Inn and Spoonline, where OTC’s previous office used to be.
“It involves getting up to date Street View images of the whole town,” Doyle said. “Street View is when you’re on Google Maps. You can see the front of a building. You can see the front of a house you’re going to buy. You want to see where the brewery is off of the highway. ‘Oh wait, there’s no brewery on Google Maps.’ It’s a useful thing that helps people figure out if businesses are there or not.”
Doyle says the update is not about money at this stage, and initial reconnaissance in May was necessary to see if project was feasible. He convinced GBC to take the risk for the cost of the specialized camera, about $400, before committing to taking on more of the project. He believes the community will benefit from the new footage.
“Mainly it helps those businesses that weren’t around seven years ago,” Doyle said. “That’s a big deal. These people come to Girdwood and don’t know where to go, and they go into the neighborhoods. The brewery is actually the big one. They don’t know it’s there because it’s not on Google Street View, so they go up Timberline, and they get lost in Cabana Land back there.”
With CA as a sponsor, OTC will experiment taking footage during a float down Placer River with the camera mounted in the middle of the raft. Another experiment will involve mounting the camera on a rail car to get footage of the ride to the whistle stop Grandview.
“We’re planning on taking the camera down Placer River to capture some super cool river footage with it,” said Ari Stiassny, Owner of Chugach Adventures.
While the rafting and railroad footage will help CA, Stiassny is glad Girdwood will have up to date images on Street View. He said the more local businesses work together, the more they benefit.
“What I’ve learned about Alaskan tourism in general is the more we can help each other out, whether it’s within communities or within industries, we are all in this collectively,” Stiassny said. “With the power of Google, there is potentially a lot of boost for Girdwood with this project, whether or not I tangibly see it, I don’t know, but I think the community will see something.”
GBC’s Co-Founder and Marketing Director Josh Hegna said the brewery’s interest in the project was practical. Where the brewery now stands was a dirt lot in 2011, likely leading Street View users to think the brewery is not there.
“The Girdwood Brewing Company view was seven years old,” Hegna said. “It was a big pile of mud going up to where the brewery is now. People always ask where we are. You have to cater to those 21st century tourists that may just get on their phone and they see just a big pile of dirt. That doesn’t do much for us.”
Hegna said the project helps people using their phones to navigate around Girdwood, while searching for the brewery. A viewer may see other places of interest throughout town. He also said people drive through Girdwood lost while looking on their cell phones for guidance, particularly down Timberline Dr. looking for GBC.
“By mapping out all of Girdwood,” Hegna said, “it’s going to bring awareness to all these other small businesses, and hopefully keep the traffic where it should be and not where we don’t want it.”
Hegna wants to draw awareness to the brewery while doing something for the community. He believes the project has the potential to help a lot of local businesses.
“Since we’ve opened, we’ve strived to be a community minded brewery,” Hegna said. “We sponsored round one of this camera. Our goal was to draw awareness to Girdwood in general, not just to bring attention to our beer but to let people know there is cool shopping to do around here, great lodging and dining experiences, tourism. It’s a great tool for everybody in Girdwood. Everybody wins with this.”