Category Archives: Process

Tagzania + Google Earth

I already linked to Tagzania a few days ago — this proudly Basque outfit lets you collect, title, describe, tag, save, edit and copy points of interest (henceforth called POIs) using Google Maps. You can use Tagzania’s own incredibly clean binary list/map interface to do all this, or you can use a personalized bookmarklet in Google Maps to add POIs to your personal collection.

That’s just the start. All these POIs are shared, and you can view them by author or by tag, on a Google Map or as a list. And each author and tag collection has its own RSS feed, to which anyone can subscribe. Update your POI collection and the feed instantly reflects this.

Now for the clincher: Given that geotagged RSS is practically an XSLT transformation away from KML, I asked Tagzania today if they were considering outputting these feeds as dynamic network links for Google Earth. The answer came three hours later, in the form of a KML badge next to the RSS badge. It works perfectly.

Wow. This has turned into quite a day for adding functionality to Google Earth.

How is this better than Virtual Earth’s scratch pad? Let us count the ways. The scratch pad only lets you save businesses you’ve found via Virtual Earth’s search. Tagzania lets you save any POI whatsoever, and let’s you edit it, tag it and share it via RSS and KML. You can access your POIs at all times from any computer connected to the internet. This means that if you spend 4 hours at work marking all the best beaches in Greece, you can inspect them further with Google Earth when you get home, which will gladly fly you from island to island.

Anyone can now create their own personalized sightseeing site in Google Maps, and it will be viewable in Google Earth. Groups of people can collaborate on projects by using common tags. Friends can instantly mark and share tips for shopping. Geography teachers can make lesson plans and share them with a class of Google Earth-browsing students. The possibilities are very broad indeed.

(What about spamming? Tag-based feeds are spammable, as far as I can tell, but user collections should be immune, as long as you subscribe to people you trust. How does Flickr guard against tagspam?)

[Update 08:05 UTC 2005-07-27: Because I cannot tell a lie, and because I don’t want to take credit for other people’s ideas:

Me in an email:

> Did you really do that in three hours, or had you been working on it before:-)?


No. It was almost ready from day 1, july 20th, just some bugs detected in the performace in Google Earth. Once we corrected them, we made it public yesterday. As a matter of fact, we did it *before* your msg reached us… But, well, the story at your blog is just too good to change that with the truth now:-)]

Return ticket: FlickrFly

You may have played with the dynamic layer that links from Google Earth to geotagged Flickr images. It was one of the first inventive uses of KML markup language after Google Earth launched.

Now you can do the reverse: You can link to Google Earth dynamically from within the Flickr website, letting Google Earth fly you to the spot where your geotagged photo was taken.

Rob Roy, the author of the servlet that makes this possible, explains all on his blog.

I think FlickrFly is a wonderful innovation — it seamlessly integrates Google Earth as a browsing tool, and should lead to many more Flickr users noticing the link, trying Google Earth, and then geotagging their own photos once they realize the benefits it brings.

Google Earth + traceroute mashup

[Update 21:35 UTC: The author of this fine oeuvre has been identified. It is Chris McKeever.]

Traceroutes are lists of IP addresses. IP addresses have physical locations. Locations have coordinates. Ergo you can map traceroutes. What better place to do this than in Google Earth, dynamically? It’s a clever idea. Even cleverer is that whoever thought of it actually went and implemented it.

Here it is. It works exactly as advertised. And it is a great proof of concept that dynamically generated KML network links are immensely versatile.

Network links also let you “Fly to view on refresh,” (if you edit them) and can be made to refresh every few seconds. This means you could give someone a network link that you control, and thus give people guided tours remotely. Or perhaps soon we might be able to browse the world in unison, remotely, by having one browser’s recorded position constitute a dynamic network link for another.

Or somebody could write a plugin/servlet that scrapes the geodata from the currently displayed website on an HTML browser window and feeds it to Google Earth as a network link, so that Google Earth always shows you the physical location associated with the website you’re surfing to. Wow, we’re not even a month into Google Earth, and already one utopian browsing vision seems within reach.

Parentproofing Google Earth

Google Maps is at the epicenter of efforts to turn it into a social bookmark and geotagging fest because there is an API there to exploit. Just in the past few days there’s been a real explosion: There’s Tagzania (“Tagging the planet”), gmaptrack (“create and place your own information onto Google Maps, and share with others”), and of course the by now venerable Been Mapped (“Bookmark the Earth!”), just to name some I’ve run into.

The blog Excellatronic Communications, meanwhile, has been pondering on how it might be possible to do something similar with Google Earth.

I think it will always be relatively trivial to convert the result of a Google Mapshup into dynamically generated KML for ready consumption in Google Earth. But it would be very nice if it got easier for Google Earth to give some love back. The simplest feature request I can think of would be to incorporate an FTP client in a future version, so that there is a easy way to update straighforward network links with new finds.

Or perhaps Google might even consider letting me store my KML files centrally on their servers, somewhere among the 1.8 gigabytes of unused space allotted to my gmail account that I just never manage to fill up. After all, I’m already sending my placemarks to my gmail account (and on to others) everytime I find a keeper. It would be easier just to let friends subscribe to a network link that I can manage from within the application — ideally without needing to know what an FTP is.

COM again?

Simon Chapman starts delving into Google Earth’s C++ codebase and comes up with a basic COM interface.

Slightly tangential thought: I wonder if the Mac version will be scriptable? Using Automator/Applescript to take timelapse video of weathermap overlays would be a bit of a trip. Or we could try to scrape geodata from the frontmost web page in Safari and have Google Earth fly there while we surf. In other words, there is room for a Google Earth equivalent of the Google Maps API.

yubnub + Google Earth mashup

My very first mashup!

yubnub is extremely clever. It’s a folksonomy of command-line commands for the web, quite simply, and it leaves little doubt that the web-as-operating-system meme is in full bloom.

To get an idea of how it works, just go there and try it. Type “g stockholm” and you will see the Google search results for “Stockholm”. Type “flk googleearth” and you’re taken to a Flickr search for “googleearth”. The “g” and the “flk” are user submitted; both “gmaps” and “gm” work for Google Maps, for example. (What’s more, you can now combine 2 or more successive such commands into pipes, just like with real Unix.)

But there wasn’t a yubnub command for Google Earth yet, as far as I could tell. So I remembered this morning’s little discovery, by Taylor Monacelli, that Google Earth KML files need not have coordinates — a valid address is just fine. (Google Maps works the same way: supply just and address, and it will return a URL with both address and coordinates.)

What needed to be done, then was quite simple: Write some PHP that procures a (valid, obvs.) address, wraps it inside valid KML and then saves it to the desktop, where Google Earth is waiting to launch it.

Here it is.

All I did then was go to yubnub and make my own new command, gearth, which calls my PHP form.

So now, you can “gearth 109 St. Marks Place, New York, NY, 10009”, my old haunt, and fly directly to the East village, where you’ll end up hovering above Tompkins Square Park, not unlike the aliens in Independence Day.