Listing integration opportunities for Google Earth

A few weeks ago, we got this news:

In another sign of Google Inc.’s growth from start-up to corporate behemoth, the company’s top executives said Thursday that they had begun telling engineers to stop launching so many new services and instead focus on making existing ones work together better.

What might the implications of such a directive be for Google Earth and Maps? There are many opportunities for their integration with other services in Google’s constellation of products — and in the case of SketchUp and Picasa, such integration is already very visible. Other projects may well be underway, but that shouldn’t stop us from making our own little matrix of Google services and speculating on other ways in which geospatial data might come to infuse Google.

So here they are then, the A-to-Y of Google services that have the potential for integration with Earth and Maps. let’s look at the current state of their integration and some scenarios for what could be.

AdWords – Earlier this year, a German news site reported that in the autumn (i.e around now) advertisers would be able to buy ads based on geographic coordinates rather than words. Searches for addresses could thus trigger ads for nearby businesses.

AnalyticsAnalytics2KML is a third party service that turn your Google Analytics data into KML, though you first have to export the data manually. Google Analytics has a map function built in, but it isn’t an implementation of Google Maps. I suspect it is only a matter of time before that map becomes a Google Map, and that a button will offer a KML network link to a near-realtime feed of site visitors.

Base – Location-constrained searches for items on Google Base already bring up a Google Map with placemarks. You can subscribe to such searches via RSS, but this RSS is not GeoRSS — it does not contain location information. Possible improvement: Offering that same subscription as a KML network link, which would allow you to keep tabs on new items geospatially.

Blogger – Other blog authoring tools are getting third-party add-ons for georeferencing posts with Google Maps and Earth (see Blojsom and Drupal) so why not have this built in with Blogger? You could then serve a GeoRSS feed, a KML network link, and perhaps even a little Google Map in the right column for quick geospatial browsing of posts. Finally, the automatic georeferencing of posts made with Blogger Mobile would be an obvious asset once mobile phones begin to offer geolocating abilities by default.

Bookmarks – Still in Google Labs, there is nothing here that doesn’t do better. If you want to bookmark places, use Tagzania.

Browser Sync – Browser Sync is an indispensable part of my browsing experience because it makes my bookmarks portable, while also acting as a backup. I really wish there was Google Earth Sync for the content in my Places sidebar. I’d gladly offer up some of my 2GBs of available GMail.

And if we get this far, why not make it possible to share a public subset of my Places sidebar, just as I can share a Google Calendar? It would be by far the easiest way to feed my parents interesting new finds.

Calendar – When Google Calendar and the Data API came out, there were obvious opportunities for geospatial mashups, and indeed, some made it to the beta stage. But then, nothing.

At the moment, locations in the calendar are connected to a simple URL-based search in Google Maps. Possible improvement: Collecting all places marked in a calendar and publishing them as a time-enabled KML network link. Bonus feature: Offering driving directions and travel times between same-day events.

Co-op – This service lets you create a custom search engine. Earlier this week, searches on Google Earth Community began returning content for Google Earth Blog and Ogle Earth as well, so consider this service implemented!

Docs and Spreadsheets – With EditGrid, XSL transformations on XML output from EditGrid online spreadsheets are an extremely efficient way to create live KML from collaboratively maintained data. EditGrid’s Grid2Map add-on even makes it automatic. Google Spreadsheets is way behind EditGrid in this regard.

Maps – It’s great that KML can be visualized in Google Maps simply by pasting the URL of the KML file in the Maps search field. But further opportunities abound: Why not visualize GeoRSS feeds by pasting them in the the Maps search field? How about a button that turns a Maps permalink into a KML file — it’s already an easter egg, so why not make it explicit?

Recent Maps searches and saved locations could be made available as a KML network link. And if Google Earth were linked to my GMail account, then my location searches in Google Earth could be available in Google Maps. This way, we’d have data portability between Maps and Earth.

News – News stories have bylines, but these are not unambiguous, so geocoders often get them wrong. Instead, it’d be better to wait until news organizations supply locations for their stories in the metadata, as CBS does. That makes two improvements possible: News proximity alerts for locations, and a KML network link that returns aggregated news stories for a particular view in Google Earth.

Notebook – Shared collaborative annotation of the web is a powerful idea, which is why it would also work for items published to Google Earth, as this older post muses. A Notebook for Google Earth would be a natural way for users to flag data errors, to subscribe to others’ interesting finds, or to collaborate on special content collections — the results would then be available as both a web page and KML. Popular as Google Earth Community is, I still think the bulletin board format is not ideal for some of the activities users end up pursuing there. A collaborative notebook metaphor is more conducive to group activities, I suspect.

Page Creator and Personalized Homepage – The gadget add-ons are a very cool feature — and yes, you can add a Google Map gadget, driving directions, and make your own mashups. Check out this example page.

Personalized Search – Is there such a big difference between Google web searches and place searches? Not really, so your Maps search history could easily become a tab on the left in personalized search — and if Google Earth gets connected to a Google account, so could Google Earth’s search history.

Picasa – Currently, Picasa lets you georeference photos with Google Earth via a very simple process, and then lets you export your photos as a KMZ file. But what isn’t possible yet is to see your georeferenced photos on a Map in Picasa Web Albums, or as a live KML network link. Flickr’s integration with Yahoo Maps is exemplary in this regard, and Flickr also benefits from social tools like tagging, groups, and a glorious API. So while Picasa is ahead of the pack, Picasa Web Albums lags. In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if you could upload to Flickr from Picasa?

Reader – Google Reader has gotten a lot better since last time I checked, but it would be lovely if it could aggregate GeoRSS-enabled entries onto a Google Map, or as a KML network link. This goes for all newsfeed readers, BTW.

SketchUp – This application enjoys the most high-profile integration with Google Earth via its export function, which lets you place a 3D model in situ on Google Earth, and share it via 3D Warehouse. Possible improvement: Making 3D Warehouse’s network link part of the default layers in Google Earth.

Toolbar – Many web pages take advantage of the GeoURL ICBM address server to geolocate themselves using a line of code in the header. Google Toolbar could contain a button that uses this metadata to focus Google Earth on the place associated with the page you’re currently reading. Google Earth could even be put on autopilot, providing geospatial context for your web browser’s content at every instant. (The more layers that are turned on, the more context.) This to me remains the holy grail for integration between web browsers and geobrowsers. Here’s how it might work, excerpted from this post back in July 2005:

Soon, surfing from geotagged website to geotagged website will be accompanied with a moving zooming live Earth; a visit to leads to a view of Geneva, for example, where my address book placemarks show me that my friend Eurof, who lives there, is currently online with Skype. I also notice there is an exhibit of pre-Columbian art on around the corner from him, courtesy of a placemark sponsored by the outbreak of Marburg in the Uige province of Angola, and the Earth view automatically moves there. Perhaps I will be able to switch on an overlay of gridded population densities, or child mortality (provided by the WHO?), letting me further understand the context of the news. Perhaps somebody will have taken pictures from the region on a recent trip, and geotagged them. Maybe one of the doctors there is blogging it, and her blog shows up in the view. Perhaps Wikipedia will have geotagged its article on Uige by then.

The web is getting to be ridiculously good.

YouTube (and Google Video) – Vlogmap already does a great job of georeferencing video blog entries. Not every video is location-specific, but for those that are, imagine if YouTube allowed users to attach a location, so that you could browse them via a layer in Google Earth, much as you can with TurnHere videos currently.

Some of these ideas are probably daft, and the next big geospatial thing is likely completely missing from the above list. But with competing virtual globes soon crowding the market, Google Earth’s competitive advantage lies in being able to harvest the synergies in Google’s stable of services. In other words, expect more geospatial integration from Google.

5 thoughts on “Listing integration opportunities for Google Earth”

  1. Stafan, good insights. You should be working for them.

    It may be implicit in some of those, but I think it’s also worth calling out the most obvious: search.

    Yes, Google Maps is somewhat integrated, but not very contextually. If I search for New York, I get a map. But GE better shows the context of where NY is using the dynamic zoom.

    The toolbar could do that, but all I think they need to start is a “see it on Google Earth” link for search results. The Wiki entry tries to do this with a map of the US highlighting NY, for example.

    [btw, this highlights one problem with some modern geocoding: you need more than a lat/long of a place to derive context. You either need to specify the geographic extent (the size) to compute a good zoom/distance to view, or a good georeference should contain a suggested viewing distance and ideally an orientation too.]

  2. Just as well it is lousy outside today: following out from the various links on your post kept me at my screens all day! I think mashups are where we’ll see a lot of this coming together.

  3. Good thoughts Stefan. There’s no question Google needs to do a lot more integration between their products. These are some excellent “low-hanging fruit” kind of integration steps they should be taking. I’m glad you are actually voicing these in a public forum, even though many of us have probably been thinking of them for months.

  4. An impressive and inspiring list indeed. Another suggestion: Google Trends. I still look forward to the first public data on where people are going while they are submerged in Google Earth. We talk about referencing everything, but what about ourselves, the viewers, the users…?

    The other obvious co-op is to show Google’s search results in Google Earth, something that has been around at Google but not yet publically available.

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