Natural Search Blog

Where’s Waldo in Google Earth

In a very clever bit of marketing, Canadian artist Melanie Coles has created a large rooftop image of the iconic character found in the popular Where’s Waldo? book series.

Where's Waldo in Google Maps?
(click to enlarge)

The image is located somewhere in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was created with the specific intention of being findable via Google Earth (warning, I have the location pinpointed in a link and geocoordinates at the end of this post). It will be a while before Waldo can be found in Google Earth (or in Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, or MS Live Search Maps, for that matter), because there is a time lag in between when satellite images and aerial photos get updated in those services — so, it could be six months to a year before the image is really findable and viewable online.

The image was created as a demonstration of a viral game for Coles’ graduation art project at the Emily Carr Institute. Her blog statement on the project says:

“My addition of a Waldo figure to Google Earth, in a way subverts the whole earth into being part of my game; each rooftop or field then becomes a place where Waldo could be hiding.”

Coles further mentions that she intended the project to artistically confront the question, “Is Google God?”

Coles’ Where’s Waldo project appears to me to be a combination of a number of different sub-genres of art and marketing, simultaneously, making it a very effective piece of commercial art. It is incorporating the emerging discipline of locative art, viral marketing, pop art, commercial art, and digital mapping.

The project has gained viral popularity fairly rapidly, generating media buzz throughout Canada, and it’s now breaking out into other worldwide attention like Wired, and various blogs.

Coles’ ability to get distribution and popularity is not just due to luck — she apparently has access to some good savvy in documenting and distributing info about the project. For instance, Carolyn Coles (sister?) has uploaded pix of the Waldo project in Flickr under a Creative Commons license allowing open distribution — something allowing news reporting sites and blogs very easy terms under which they may include illustration of the work with articles.

We can expect to see a lot more of this type of thing in coming years. I’ve written before about how Yum! Corporation targeted viewers in Google Maps with their “space ad” of the KFC logo on a Nevada desert, and I halfway joked before about how people could improve roof ads intended to communicate graphic messages from building tops like this Waldo art piece. This USAToday article I was quoted in also outlines rooftop advertising, and Google’s announcement of a flyover to update map pics for Australia Day last year had all sorts of people crawling out of the woodwork in attempts to get messages into the satellite images.

Bottom line: online and interactive mapping application usage is picking up and the popular culture is rapidly evolving in attempts to be seen through map search systems.

For those looking forward to seeing Waldo when Google Maps images get updated for Vancouver, the picture will be located at: 49°16′ 04.5″ N, 123°8′ 58.7W (click the link to view the Google Map of Waldo). I expect the map satellite images might get updated anywhere from six months to a year from now.

5 comments for Where’s Waldo in Google Earth »

  1. MyAvatars 0.2

    Do you think that disclosing the location of this installation piece takes something away from it?
    Is it just me, or do other people feel that the “search” is an integral piece of the art?
    Where did you get the information in the first place?
    Even my search to find the location in the internet is incorporated into her piece, and you just gave away the prize.

    Comment by Eyenray — 4/15/2008 @ 2:59 pm

  2. MyAvatars 0.2

    I think you’re right – that search is an integral piece of the art.

    However, I don’t believe that my posting the coordinates detracts from that art at all. People interested in finding Waldo could opt not to use my solution, and could eventually browse around to find the location once the online mapping systems have updated their satellite or aerial pictures. I don’t think it’s materially different from having solutions to crossword puzzles printed in the paper the next day — one can use the solution if one wishes.

    I used contextual clues found in the artist’s photos to find the location.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 4/15/2008 @ 3:13 pm

  3. MyAvatars 0.2

    Great post! I think this is one of the best project summaries I have read re: Waldo!

    Comment by Carolyn — 4/16/2008 @ 6:39 pm

  4. MyAvatars 0.2

    how long ago did you do the painting

    Comment by luke — 9/16/2008 @ 12:03 pm

  5. MyAvatars 0.2

    I didn’t do the painting, luke – I just wrote an article about it.

    Comment by Chris Silver Smith — 9/17/2008 @ 7:10 am

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