Last summer, amid much fanfare and little server capacity, the France’s National Geographic Institute (IGN) released Géoportail, a 2D web mapping application that was (inaccurately) self-described as France’s answer to Google Earth. A 3D version was promised for 2007. It has now arrived.
Géoportail 3D is built upon Skyline Software’s Skyline Globe web browser plugin. Here’s comes my first complaint (what did you expect?): The plugin works on Windows 2000/XP/Vista only, which once again defeats the point of using a web browser to serve the data. (At least there are more Windows options available than the BBC’s XP-only iPlayer for BBC video.) [Update: Mac and Linux will be supported in January 2008, says IGN.] Second complaint: It is slow. On the plus side, the 3D version is clearly marked Beta — which means that these complaints are provisional:-)
Also no sign yet of the 3D buildings with facade mapping that was demoed back in April 2006. Meanwhile, Google Earth just got new high resolution imagery this past weekend for the French Riviera, Arles, Biarritz, Strasbourg, Grenoble, Angers, Amiens, Bourges, Clermont Ferrand, and the Loire River.
But some compliments are in order for the 2D version of Géoportail. Over the past year it has gotten some nifty features, including the ability to adjust the opacity of different mapping layers — for example having the imagery at 100% on the bottom and superimposing the map at 50% on top of it.
Still, the interactive mapping tools that Google MyMaps has made available over the past year makes Géoportail feel so, I don’t know, 2006? What IGN should have done, and what they still could do, is to make their mapping layers available to all comers, be it Google, Microsoft or NASA World Wind, and let them deal with the cut-throat competition of building compelling consumer mapping applications. That’s a completely separate skill from collecting and prepping geospatial data, which is what IGN specializes in, and what it should continue to focus on. IGN is not the French Google, and never will be. (Via Business Garden)