The default layer update: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Well, you’re in luck: I DO have value to add to the news of today’s default layers update in Google Earth, so in keeping with my freshly articulated blogging priorities, it is getting an own post. (Enough with the metablogging already – Ed.)

If you fired up Google Earth today you will have noticed the substantially reorganized default layers sidebar. Quickly now: There is a new live weather layer showing global cloud coverage, US radar imagery and forecast data from; layers are reorganized thematically; and I’m pretty sure that the Egypt Tourism layer in the new Travel and Tourism folder is new.

So, what’s the good in this update? The weather layers are the first of their kind to be dynamic. As Google Lat Long Blog tells us, they are constantly updated, not once a month or thereabouts as was the case until now. It is my understanding that this dynamism extends to all default layers — so no more need to wait a month for an update… at least not for technical reasons. The contributors of the default layers can now, if they want to, publish straight to Google Earth, just like does.

What’s the bad? I’m no fan of the new Egypt layer. It’s promotional, rather than informational. The 100% New Zealand tourism layer at least has a feeling of being exhaustive when it comes to cataloguing that country’s cultural and natural heritage. Not so with Egypt’s layer. And it is a pity, because the country is bursting at the seams with archaeological and natural treasures. Instead we get (I can hardly believe it) a placemark for Hurghada! Seriously, wouldn’t you rather not know the following? From the popup:

A simple fishing port just a decade ago, Hurghada is now the most popular seaside resort in the world for sun worshippers, water-sports enthusiasts and divers. With its modest souk, the town centre, known as el-Dahar, has retained its traditional charm. Tourist resorts – of which there are over a hundred, many of them boasting ultra-luxurious accommodation – extend for 20 kilometres or so along the coast. Few of the coral reefs can be reached by swimming from the shore, but numerous clubs and tour operators offer excursions out to sea; the island reserve of Giftun is well worth a visit.

People! — it’s a tacky tourist trap. Cairenes roll their eyes at the mention of the place. Meanwhile, there is no placemark for Whale Valley or Abu Mena, both on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. And Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities has the entire country’s historical patrimony in a GIS system, a dataset so deserving of wider popularity but without the will or funding (or a clue) about converting to neogeographic formats.

I’m wondering if such layers are there purely on their merits, or whether they are a revenue generator for Google. If they are, I think we should be told that we’re navigating a geo-infomercial. If they aren’t, I’m wondering if all comers are allowed… Perhaps this is the reason why we now have a separate tourism folder.

The Ugly: The weather forecast layer (currently down due to heavy server load) shows both a weather icon and a temperature — but the temperature looks like this: “75ºF – 22ºC”. That is an inefficient way of imparting information, as one half of it is redundant. It is the equivalent of showing a placemark with two labels, one in a language you don’t care for. What I impulsively felt like doing was removing the Fahrenheit number — except that you can’t.

I’d prefer just getting the temperature in Celsius, either via a preference setting (just as you can determine metric distance units instead of imperial units in the preferences) or else by letting us toggle between two separate layers.

There you have it — the good, the bad and the ugly of the latest default layer update.

2 thoughts on “The default layer update: The good, the bad, and the ugly”

  1. I am growing increasingly worried that GE is becoming a billboard on which to hang adds rather than a tool with which to change lives.

  2. Interesting comment, Jon, considering I’ve never experienced seeing any ads in Google Earth, or Maps.

    Perhaps what you meant is that this is something you fear might happen? I would actually think that what will happen is that the ad revenue gained will be due to local businesses using Google’s ad tools to make their businesses ‘local search friendly’ — which, isn’t ‘ad space’, it’s actually a very similar approach to how the printed Yellow Pages, or Yellow Book is sold to local businesses for listing incentive.

    If I recall though, when I last had experience with trying to establish a Yellow Page ad for a small business I was starting up with a friend a long time ago — it was at a cost of something like $800 per month. I think we’ve come a long way since then, and it becomes a more feasible proposition for small businesses to draw more awareness of their businesses in this way, where they otherwise couldn’t afford it before with more ‘traditional’ methods.

    The trick then, is that Google needs to make this transparent to the end-user so that it’s not a forced intrusion visually — which is where Search comes in, and which is their greatest proven asset of that functionality in that big picture of end-user functionality that ties-into goods and services and other information. The rest can still change lives and the world, depending on how it’s used, and who choses to use it.

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