Google Earth

Google Earth is a new map viewer with overlay capacity, cardinal directions and huge amounts of data, including topography, transportation (roads, railroads, transit stops), building footprints in major cities, socio-economic census data and crime statistics, business locations. Some of the data is extruded to 3-D. Most important, it’s free.

From Google’s site

Want to know more about a specific location? Dive right in — Google Earth combines satellite imagery, maps and the power of Google Search to put the world’s geographic information at your fingertips.

  • Fly from space to your neighborhood. Type in an address and zoom right in.
  • Search for schools, parks, restaurants, and hotels. Get driving directions.
  • Tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings.
  • Save and share your searches and favorites. Even add your own annotations.

Google Earth puts a planet’s worth of imagery and other geographic information right on your desktop. View exotic locales like Maui and Paris as well as points of interest such as local restaurants, hospitals, schools, and more.

The Washington Post has a good review of Google Earth. The article focuses on one feature that exploits the interactivity and exchange potentials of the Internet:

You can add “placemarks” for any interesting spots you find, then share them with other Google Earth users via an online bulletin board. This ought to be directly integrated with Google Earth, instead of requiring you to save a placemark as a separate file, then switch to your Web browser to attach that file to a posting in that bulletin board.

It should then show up under the “Keyhole BBS” category in Google Earth’s Layers menu, but the program neglects to explain (as a Google publicist did) that it takes about two weeks for that to happen.

Despite those roadblocks, users of Google Earth and the earlier Keyhole program have accumulated a massive library of shared placemarks that span a wide range of geo-trivia. One individual, for example, has assembled a set of placemarks that point to historic lighthouses; another is mapping the locations of publicly accessible webcams.

[The Keyhole bbs could be one of the best features of Google Earth because it creates on online community of map users and data sharers. For those of you who are not intimate users of geographic information systems (GIS), it has an excellent introduction to the software as well as FAQs posted by community members. See prior post on the wonders of Keyhole technology.]

What fascinates me is the impact that Google might have on GIS companies, particularly in the movement of GIS capability to the Internet. Not only is Google Earth offered for free but Google has value added packages as well. Google Plus has a GPS add in ($20US). Google Earth Pro, which is designed for professional and commercial users, promises to offer “the ultimate research, presentation and collaboration tool for location information” is $400 US. There is also an enterprise solution, “for on-site deployment of custom Google Earth databases in your enterprise”. Earlier, Google maps announced an api (for the geeky among you) that allows you to create mini applications. I have one sitting on my iBook desktop, a cool mapping utility for Montreal.

I’ve consistently been impressed by the user interface of Google maps, although one can get pretty tired of the ICBM-like zoom in every time you change locations. Plus you cannot really run it without a broadband connection, as the application doesn’t store the data on your computer but retrieves itas needed from its own servers. Nonetheless, the GIS community has been talking about distributed GIS for years, so we should accommodate a few glitches as it truly goes online. With all these features, the user interface, and the low, low price, I wonder if we’ll shortly be shifting to Google Earth as our standard GIS?

3 Responses to “Google Earth”

  1. liam says:

    It’s interesting what they’ve done since I mentioned it here, they added some google search abilities, it’s now free for private use, and they’ve exposed the api, google seems to embrace the free services . However, the interface is still essentially the same, and it still seems slightly clunky, mind you my computer is not exactly cutting edge.

    In the same vein, fun things for google maps have been rolling around lately, housingmaps, which combines with craigslist, Chicago Crime, which combines with crime data, and a few others. Google has also opened up its maps api, to make it easier for people to do such hacks. It is an interesting business model they’re trying.

    (btw isn’t it a terrible apple faux pas to capitalize the I and not the b in iBook? ;))

  2. sieber says:

    You’re approaching trolldom, ;-). However, I shall update the post.

  3. hugemore says:

    if somebody have the key to upgrade it will be more clear!