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Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Search Engine Technology: Around the World in 80 Seconds with Google Earth

Posted by @ 11:08 pm

Google Earth has landed in spectacular fashion. This new service from Google offers satellite imagery from around the world which can be overlaid with local search results and directions. Google Earth is a stand alone application (i.e. you need to install some software which is available for free, but your computer needs to meet certain system requirements) and provides you with a navigation panel that allows you to find, zoom in and out of, and rotate satellite images.

You can choose which local search results you want as overlay – for example, you can display restaurants or dentist locations right on top of the satellite picture, with a full listing next to the image. You can also view points of interest or facts like crime statistics as an overlay. You can make notes and bookmark your favorite views and even share them with other users.

There also is an advanced version available for $20 per year (Google Earth Plus) which offers higher resolution images, GPS support and some other advanced features.

Currently, Google Earth has detailed imagery for the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and 38 large cities in other countries (local search only works in the three countries). The rest of the world is currently only covered by medium to high resolution terrain imagery. I can’t wait to get more detailed imagery for the parts of the world currently not covered. Just imagine – you could check out the location of a hotel before you book your next holiday, and, with the local search overlay, get an idea of how far away your hotel is from the next shopping center/restaurant/bar/nightspot.

My verdict: Google Earth is an extremely cool tool. It’s pretty exciting to zoom in on your office location and your home and getting close enough to see that your car wasn’t in the driveway when the satellite image was taken. In my case, I was even able to guess how old the image was because Google Earth still displays a vacant plot of land behind our house on which new houses were built about four months ago. And the “Fly To” function, which lets you visually follow the path from one destination to the next, is simply spectacular to view.

I must admit that I haven’t played with other mapping services much, but my first impression of Google Earth is that it certainly must pose a serious competitive threat for other mapping services.

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