Google buys Sketchup, II: Why?

I’m surprised at the surprise with which some are greeting the announcement of SketchUp’s purchase. Conventional Google and search engine blogs are trying not to be befuddled — this is getting way beyond search, and they don’t like it. But even some CAD blogs are scratching their heads.

The Irish are all over this, however (smart people). Geared Up Blog:

What models? You wait! Entire towns will be mapped all over the world, for Google. If everyone maps their village/district/block, can you imagine the resource this would create? Woah.

EirePreneur even suggested that Google buy Sketchup in July last year:

If Google bought it and gave it away as it did with Picasa it could easily recruit a huge team of volunteer 3D modellers to fill in the gaps on Google Earth. I for one would happily create a ‘freehand’ model of my local town. Wouldn’t you?

Exactly. The main thesis sustaining this blog is that Google Earth is a next-generation browser. It’s a social tool, above all, with a mission to mirror the real world. Just as HTML browsers have had content built for them with successively more sophisticated authoring tools, so too Google Earth needs to kick-start the virtuous circle that will propel geobrowsing.

Additionally, the idea of the geobrowser is predicated on the notion that much of what is found on the internet can in fact be tied to a specific place on Earth, and that we are more used to navigating physical spaces like Earth than abstract spaces like the internet (not surprising, considering that we’ve had a 4,000-generation head start with the former over the latter.) Until now, we’ve made do with the abstraction of the internet because we hadn’t yet reached the technological tipping point that made virtual Earths a feasible mass phenomenon. (The two are not really ‘worlds apart’, though. Think IP = geographic coordinate pair, web URL = street address.) Soon, we’ll have two snugly interlocking metaphors for browsing humanity’s collected knowledge: topic and place. Internet and Earth.

Or maybe the two teams just got along really well and Google had some spare cash…

4 thoughts on “Google buys Sketchup, II: Why?”

  1. James, have you tried Sketchup? It’s the most user-friendly graphics application that I have ever seen. Their product just screams Google.

    I agree with Stefan’s viewpoint. I don’t want to discount the people (after all, they’ve built an awesome application) but this application is a great fit for Google’s business… world domination that is :)

  2. Jason, I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve sat behind people using it. You are quite right, it is very impressive.

    I guess I’m just still not sure we’ve hit the why yet. It could be because of Sketchup, but its not really that important to Google’s business.

    Then again, when I heard Google bought Keyhole I couldn’t understand that either.

  3. I’ve posted some thoughts on my blog about why I think the acquisition makes sense. They’re similar to Stefan’s (they were posted around the same time) but with a bit more focus on why I think it makes business sense.

    Basically, I believe that they are doing this so that they have the ability to compete in the geographically-enabled web. They can provide the 2D drafting capabilities themselves easily, but the 3D stuff takes a lot of effort and Sketchup does it best.


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