I once had an idea about Google Earth. I had gotten so into using Google Earth that I wanted to write an Op-Ed piece about its use and overwhelming popularity. I’m not so much a techy, geek-type and I thought I could write a coherent piece that could be interesting and understandable to regular folks from age six to 106. Well, like many things, I never got around to it.
Two articles that came out at nearly the same time in July, a piece in Wired and another in Technology Review, attempt to explain the wonderful workings of Google Earth (and Google Maps) and Google Earth (and Second Life). These essays are not what I had in mind with my Op-Ed fantasy, but they do go far to explain some of the interesting notions that come up concerning Google Earth.
In "Google Maps is Changing the Way We see the World," Evan Ratliff gives a terrific overview article on not only Google Maps but Google Earth. (I guess that in the on-line world, the writer doesn’t get to write the headline just as in the print world!)
Ratliff answers some frequently asked questions like:
1. What is KML?
2. Why "Earth"?
3. Does Google 'smudge' the sensitive locations?
Read the article to find out the answers.
I cannot agree more with Ratliff’s point that these on-line map services put the power of maps into the hands of non-specialists thus changing what gets mapped, from what scientists find useful to what everyone else finds useful. Sometimes these data overlap, often they don’t, and we move closer to the democratization of geospatial data.
"Second Earth," by Wade Roush in Technology Review takes my beloved Google Earth a step further. He wants to squeeze avatars into Google Earth, or better yet, he wants to recreate Earth in Second Life. This is a noble idea, one that I have stated to my colleagues here at Vassar before (well, the first idea, not the second), but as we all know, the co-mingling of Google Earth and Second Life is not to be happening anytime soon. But the prospect of merging geospatial technologies and virtual worlds is titillating and compelling, especially in the realm of higher education. (The image above is taken from Unype's web site).
With loads of interesting little bits about this and that related to Second Life, this essay is well-worth reading, though a little over-long. But when Roush tells us that “if you take a few months to explore Second Life” you’ll be hooked, I'm thinking that he's been drinking the kool-aid. He also describes Second Life as "beautiful." I read this and I smirk. I'm partial to this life's beauty and I suppose I'm one of the Second Life skeptics. I think that the best thing about Second Life is the notion that we could one day take our little self-representations that we so painstakingly create and breeze them into the First Life. It is lost on me why NOAA would want to bring real-time weather data into Second Life for true, real-world locations, when it is so much more, well, REAL in Google Earth. Why re-create topography and aerial photography when the real thing is already available? Why re-create Machu Picchu when you can see it now in Google Earth? And Google’s server farms make the viewing experience a giddy joy.
So, I read the whole article, hoping to get clued into the mythic allure that is Second Life. What I found is what I already know. There are people who LOVE Second Life and know in their hearts that the personal connections made in an on-line sim environment are very appealing, perhaps life-changing. Second Life is an "eternal garden party" in an unreal, yet altogether not unattractive space. Google Earth, with 250 million downloads, is hugely more popular on so many levels, but primarily because of its ease of use. There is nothing intimidating about using Google Earth and no one will come up to you in Google Earth and pinch you or drop a smoke bomb on your head. And please do read the article, but something missing (pointed out by Brownian Emotion blog) is the why do an integration at all question, even if it could be done?
Neither Google nor Linden Labs (Second Life's creators) have any plan to merge their two cool web apps, unless there’s something they’re not telling us. And the only thing possible at the present that comes close to what Roush is looking for is Unype, and we already know about that too.
I guess the long and the short of it is that I should re-think my Op-Ed idea. I haven’t been scooped yet. Maybe over October Break!