For the past 72 hours, my newsreader has been polluted by the laziest rewrites in quite some time, all of them concerning the Géoportail launch. Most of them contain a majority of the following “facts”:
- Géoportail rivals Google.
- At least in France.
- You can zoom in to 50cm from the ground.
- That’s less than 20 inches.
Things to take away from this:
The general public, including journalists, is still not at all sure what a geobrowser is. There is no distinction made between 2D web mapping applications, and 3D virtual globes. Curiously too, only Google Earth is featured as some kind of mythical competitor. Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps and Microsoft Live Local aren’t mentioned, nor is the only competitor currently in Google Earth’s space, NASA World Wind.
I suspect, ironically, that many of these early uncritical rewrites of Géoportail’s press release were published because the rewriters (can we really call them journalists?) couldn’t get into Géoportail to see for themselves. If they had done so, they would have noticed that even the claim of superior imagery inside France is looking rather spotty.
For example, have a good look at the comparison images on this blog posted by a user who was able to get in, of Mont St. Michel and the Eiffel Tower. Granted, these are two places that Google Earth has in high resolution, but that is the case for all of France’s most interesting cultural spots. Even more interesting is the comparison shots of IGN’s data served by Pages Jaunes, compared to the same data served by IGN itself: Géoportail actually does a worse job.
I bet Google is noticing a nice little surge in downloads of the French localized version of Google Earth right now as frustrated Géoportail would-be users get curious about that Anglo-saxon program that was so good it needed to be bested by the French state.
Finally, one commenter on Ogle Earth expressed the hope that other countries would emulate Géoportail. (Ogle Earth previously reported on such efforts in India and Thailand, also spurred on by the arrival of Google Earth.) I cannot agree. Consumers are not best served by maps that end at national borders. This is one reason why I think national geographic and cadastral agencies should not get into the business of trying to serve their data directly to the end user — certainly not since the arrival of the geobrowser. Instead, outsource that functionality; let others add value by amalgamating data, and focus on your core competency — quality data for your jurisdiction.