Flash in Google Earth: Geochat, but with a caveat.

When Google introduced support for flash-based video such as YouTube in Google Earth 4.2 beta for Windows, hackers soon found that any flash application can run, not just YouTube. Soon after, Mickey Mellen built GE Boards, a Flash-based geo-bulletin board for Google Earth, using Flash to submit forms to a server via Google Earth. (Google Earth’s HTML support does not include support for forms.)

Now Valery Hronusov, in yet another bout of envelope-pushing, has embedded a Flash-based Meebo chatroom into a placemark popup on Google Earth, effectively allowing georeferenced chats, or if you will, a virtual walk-in “office”. It works great, if you have Google Earth for Windows.

And there’s the rub, because a Windows-only extension of Google Earth’s functionality breaks the platform independence of the experience. There are two possible solutions for this:

  • Flash support in Google Earth goes universal. I’m sure this will eventually happen, though I’ve been told it will take a while.
  • Google Earth’s HTML inside placemark popups expands to include forms, and ideally a lot more, so that content inside such a popup can really just become an HTML browser window with the same feature set as, say, the cross-platform Firefox.

The latter is really the preferred option. In my biased opinion Flash applications as a rule are a waste of programming, though there are a couple of exceptions — embedded content like video via YouTube, Meebo chatrooms and the highly usable Google Street View in Google Maps.

Come to think of it, why hasn’t Street View been incorporated into Google Earth for Windows yet? Perhaps because feature parity between different platforms for a given version of Google Earth is important to the Google Earth team, in which case I’d agree. The more Google Earth feels like a platform-independent geobrowser, the better.

Besides Flash support, there are still a few other differences between the Windows and Mac versions of Google Earth (sorry, I can’t speak for Linux users): The Windows version has a built-in browser, full-screen mode and a more feature-rich API. This is the legacy of porting over an application that was first built just for the Windows platform before remaking the GUI in the cross-platform Qt.

One thought on “Flash in Google Earth: Geochat, but with a caveat.”

  1. My general approach to Flash throughout the years has always been — that it’s a highly efficient way to *display* content. But, that also has to do with the purest’ philosophies in the separation of content and style and how you use it in line with mark-up and web semmantics. If there is no semmantic value to using Flash, then it’s by default not an option.

    Flash isn’t a great way to share information. It’s a great way to display it. Their video/audio codec is probably the best on the market at this point, and I don’t see anything coming close to matching its superiority. It’s also especially useful for displaying imagery — where all other methods are generally less desirable.

    But textual display is a complex thing with Flash. I wouldn’t build a web site on Flash — but I would use Flash elements to display very specific content into a more appropriate context using the technology. But, that also depends on if you’re using Flash as an added app to store content that can be pulled-out and integrated elsewhere as well.

    I’m with you, in that I really don’t see going the web route would be the path for GE. Though, unless someone can come-up with a robust web app that can handle everything (as a viewer), then I might decide differently. This is where I feel VE ‘fails’ in several ways, for instance. At some point, they’ll tip the top of all that code that has to be loaded into the browser — and that’s when you’ll see it’s weakness. I’d argue that it’s already at its threshold for even the most modern systems.

    GE has the potential of becoming a defacto ‘geo-browser’ — with the potential to easily integrate actual web browsing (IE, FF, Opera, etc). Shoe-horning GE into a web app, however — I just don’t see how it would be possible to make it efficient enough to run. And in that sense — that is where I see Flash/Flex ultimately ‘failing’ as well, even though we haven’t seen much come out of web mapping using Flex — yet.

    GE and NWW, and now, ArcExplorer, all have the same potentials in this regard. Though, I think ESRI will manage to underestimate the social-networking aspect of the virtual geodetic world — NWW will continue to remain in Open Source flux, and besides I don’t see the point to NWW wanting to go the social-networking route. GE will probably come-out far ahead of anyone in this aspect.

    I don’t shrug-off VE entirely — but I don’t think it’ll work in that direction. It’s also *another* plug-in, which is what I’m noticing is bugging the purests. It took years to get Flash to become an ‘acceptable’ plug-in to the browser — I think it could take even longer for VE to become accepted as a plug-in as well.

    I mean — that’s really the juxt of why no one (that I’m aware of) is ‘embedding’ VE 3D views into their web sites’ pages. A user would be forced into downloading the plug-in — which, in turn, creates a level of alienation.

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