Google Earth is being adopted rapidly by many different fields, but increasingly it has focused on the general population who use it as another browsing application. Many new features have popped up recently to support user driven content, mash-ups, KML and 3D models. The casual user can now go beyond just picking out their house on the map and now use Google Earth to perform some of the functions typically associated with a normal web browser, like getting directions or reading reviews of local restaurants.
Failure of the Web Browser
The many mapping websites can only go so far to display spatial information with ease. Microsoft has attempted this with it’s live maps, and brings much to the web browser via a plug-in. Google maps has also attempted this by bringing one of the technologies underlying Google Earth – KML (Keyhole Markup Language) into maps, allowing the much hyped “mashups”. Their shortcomings are made clear when compared to a client application dedicated to the task.
Enter the Google Earth Geo-Web Browser
Many sites are now publishing data which can only be read within Google Earth. For example, fires, earthquakes and natural disasters can quickly be published and consumed using the technology without the usually considerable investment in map publishing technology. All that is required is a link on an existing page and a relatively small file containing the relevant geographical information.
The future of the Google Earth Browser
Google has stepped up its support for rich content inside the viewer, as well as allowing more interaction between the viewer and the built in web browser. A subset of the HTML standard is supported along with the Adobe Flash viewer plug-in. The support for Flash has opened the doors to new ways to interact with the information. By supporting Flash, Google has circumvented lengthy HTML development support. Imagine flying over to your local football stadium to see a listing of past, current & upcoming games schedules, or being presented with video highlights of games - even booking tickets in a secure manner is now possible from within the Google Earth Browser.
The Bumpy Road Ahead
As with any emerging technology, there are bumps. Performance issues, stability problems, technology limitations and software bugs are all brought to light when pushing the limits of the programs capabilities. Google Earth currently appeals to the general public and professional research community, and it will be interesting to see which market Google decides to focus on.