The importance of Google Earth

GIS professionals continue to debate on whether Google Earth justifies the hype it’s getting, and whether it is a Good Thing for the GIS industry, on Ed Parson’s blog, continued with a riposte by Ed here.

Ed points to the ease of creating one’s own map, which he equates with democratization:

This is the one place where I think Google does justify the hype, in a few months Google Maps has done more to allow the individual to develop mapping based websites than the traditional GIS industry has done in 10 years. The democratisation of Geographic Information in this way is the result of two things, firstly a simple, slick API for developers and secondly and most importantly of all, the making available of a consistent source of commercial geographic information at no cost to the developer or user.

I agree, but would stress (or rather, repeat myself) that in addition to it being easy to make things with (which is a function of its clear API and embrace of open standards) it is also free to consume, which allows a critical mass of people to benefit from these hacks, which in turn gives an incentive to programmers to make social software, which in turn thrives on the network effect.

So the secret of Google Maps’ and Earth’s success is twofold: It’s easy make things for and it’s free to consume, which encourages social software. And that’s not hype when it comes to Google Earth — It was also true for the lowly web browser.