BACK in March, I came into the office to find my colleagues huddled around a single computer, clearly enthralled. I assumed from the looks on their faces, and the collective “oohs” and “ahs”, that someone had sent baby photos in. Instead, they were captivated by Google’s Street View mapping service that allows users to see 360 degree images of every street in 25 UK cities. <br /><br />After we had shown each other our flats and family homes, the novelty wore off, to be replaced by puzzlement. Why was Google doing this, and how did it expect to make money from it? This was not like the web giant’s other projects, which usually use algorithms and computers; this needed people – and lots of them – to work. <br /><br />In the UK, it has recruited a team of drivers and leased a fleet of specially modified cars to trawl 22,369 miles of roads and take millions of snapshots. It has similar teams in Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain and Italy, and plans to expand Street View quickly. Although the firm is famously tight-lipped about the budgets for individual projects, this one will be costing a fortune. <br /><br />The news that Google is planning to launch a British estate agents website that would compete with the likes of Rightmove and DMGT’s Find a Property, sheds some light on Street View. The platform will allow estate agents to provide images of properties without sending a snapper out, while buyers can explore streets and surrounding areas. <br /><br />Analysts say that such a move would be bad news for Rightmove, especially if Google allows estate agents to list properties for free and generate revenues from ads, like it does with its Australian property site. Estate agents currently pay around £325-a-month to list a property on Rightmove. Its shares closed down by over ten per cent yesterday at 499.90p. <br /><br />Estate agents shouldn’t get too excited, however. Google tends to think big when it comes to projects like this, and will have discussed a way of cutting out the middle-man altogether. Alongside the property website, it could build an online tool that allows buyers to commission surveys and so-on, while putting solicitors in touch with customers. <br /><br /><strong>LIVINGWITHOUTGOOGLE</strong><br />Google giveth, Google taketh away. Just as the firm hands an olive branch to the newspaper industry, offering to cap the number of free articles users can read through its news site, it plans a property website that will further erode classified revenues. But those publishers like News Corp that think they can freeze Google out are being unrealistic. Millions of users now use Google News as their first port-of-call and if publishers pull their content, readers will make do with those that stick around.