What is Google Earth doing among Webby Award nominees?

The Webby Award nominees are out and Google Earth gets the nod in not one but two categories — for “Best Visual Design – Function” and “Broadband”. Congratulations to the Google Earth team. You definitely deserve the recognition.

In the first category, amusingly, it gets a bit cannibalistic (or is it incestuous), with Google Earth up against Google Maps. A third strong contender is Flickr (with MadeinMTL.com and Elmwood Flooring Tool bringing up the rear).

In “Broadband”, Google Earth is up against CBC Digital Archives, FourDocs, Frontline and iFilm. I think the one with the biggest bandwidth bill should be handed this award. :-)

Still, it seems to me that the Webby Award nominators committed something of a category error. What is Google Earth doing among mere web sites? (I doubt it was nominated for its download pages.) Google Earth is a browser, not a web site — you can even view the other nominees with it.

Is Google Earth even part of the World Wide Web subset of the Internet? Strictly speaking, yes, I suppose, but Google Earth treats the web merely as an abstraction layer on top of which it builds a wholly separate, geographic frame of reference for publishing data objects. It’s like a whole new universe has calved off from an existing one.

In fact, this new universe could use its own Webby Awards, as it contains a completely different taxonomy of content — network links, overlays, placemark collections, converters, calculators, scrapers — with many talented content producers already hard at work, on Google Earth Community and elsewhere.

The fact that Google Earth is so clearly out of place as a Webby Awards nominee is in itself an indication of the application’s groundbreaking nature (yes, yes, together with geobrowsers like NASA World Wind). I am about to type the words “paradigm shift” now so I’ll stop while I’m ahead.