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Google Earth is the Novelty Wearing Off? The Occupied Virtual Earth

Google Earth changed the communication of geographical information forever. It ushered in the era of global datasets, rich three dimensional landscapes and virtual cities, we still remember the day a beta version of KeyHole was installed on our machine, in short it was a once in a decade software moment.

Google Earth and the up and coming Virtual Earth from
Microsoft are phenomenal, they provide a platform to share and visualise information that would of previously been limited to the desktop and high end packages from the likes of ESRI or MapInfo. Yet as we type we haven’t opened Google Earth for over 3 weeks, the blog hasn’t featured any new movies and the constant tide of new layers of information has started to wash over us. Why is this?

When showing Google Earth to a new user they will nine times out of ten ask to take a look at their own house, this is the natural reaction of wanting to check out your own familiar environment from a new point of view. After the local neighbourhood tour there is often a quick look at the Pyramids of Egypt, a fly around the Matterhorn before skipping across the globe to the Grand Canyon. Fifteen minutes later the wonders of the world have been seen and peoples attention start to wane.

The general user may well be aware of the ability to add in their own information or even should they wish that they can create a 3D version of their own house using SketchUp but outside of the geographical world we would question the long term nature of systems such as Google Earth. So where does it go from here to attract new users or get those users who have downloaded it to reopen and explore new features?

The problem as we see it is a lack of soul - the earth is there to drag, zoom and query at will but it is also somehow abandoned and desolate, it is devoid of population and it is this population that it needs.

This comes back to why we haven’t opened Google Earth for some time, we have been busy in Second Life finding out new ways to communicate geographic information and view digital cities within an environment that brings with it human communication and contact.

We are not comparing Second Life and Google Earth as they are very different products, but they are products that we feel are set to merge, at least in concept. We foresee that either the pyramidal tiling technology that allows us to zoom from the view of the earth to a 25 centimetre resolution image of our own rented flat just north of Camden Town will be integrated into a virtual world system or the ability to chat, build and view avatars will be integrated into Google Earth.

Integrating virtual worlds into Google earth would be more problematic, after all where would you build? Would the green areas of the globe become sprawling areas of Second Life type construction as the real world cities will of already been built. Instead we see Google Earth type datasets and technology being integrated within virtual worlds.

This is not to say that Google Earth has fallen out of favour with us, indeed this would be far from the truth. It is just that with today’s rapidly moving technology and with it the high expectations of users we would like something a little more. We would like an earth that is populated, Second Earth if you want to put a name to it.


  1. i heard about a next generation 'second life'l ike based on google earth technology in order to mix google earth and web 2.0 apps. More on


  2. Anonymous10:02 AM

    and I think that after that boom - when GE became an ordinary part of our life - we should accept it as a new common and every-day-use tool for travelling and other geo-info based activities - that is why I think software is still far ahead the hardware - yes it's nice to play with earth at home but there is no practical use to that - but when I'm to travel from europe to USA I would definately appreciate handheld capable of runnig GE on the go...Nothing remains hidden and you can never get lost

  3. I think GE has more value in the local -delivering a geographical data analysis tool that enables campaign groups to collaborate and use published data to perform their own analysis that thy couldn't normally afford. Organisations like my own should be using it so communicate more about local issues like flood risk etc - then using the visualiastion tools to demonstrate the solutions, such a new wetlands, or flood defences created digitally. Its success will lie in helping to communicate geographical issues, not just the browsing.