Google Earth Blog
Part of the business model of Google Earth has always been that free access to seeing all of the imagery helped raise the visibility of the satellite and aerial photography businesses. But, if a business wants to use this imagery, they are supposed to purchase the imagery from the provider mentioned at the bottom of the Google Earth screen (see Google’s geo-permissions guide).
During the past 10 years of Google Earth and Maps development, Google has increasingly developed sources of their own imagery. Everyone is familiar with their Street View imagery. Google’s 3D cities (introduced in 2012) are developed using aerial imagery which they also make available in their maps. And, with the purchase of Skybox, Google will soon have their own satellite imagery.
Now Google is taking the next step. Google has announced their imagery will be available for sale, initially to businesses in the US through their Google Maps for Business imagery program. The imagery can be used in a variety of ways explained in the program materials, including Google Earth. Interestingly, in what was perhaps a mistake that fortells the near future, they state they are selling “high-quality satellite photography” in the announcement – although I think they meant to say aerial photography.
It should be noted that using Google Earth historical imagery feature (introduced in 2009), businesses can also view alternative imagery available from other imagery businesses if they are available for their location. So, although Google is now competing with these businesses, their competitors have equal visibility.
We’ve talked about Earthquakes quite a lot over the years, as Google Earth is a great tool for visualizing those types of events. However, we’ve not shown very much related to the actual fault lines themselves.
Ervin Malicdem at S1 Expeditions recently took a look at the West and East Valley Fault System in the southern Philippines. The fault line is growing in interest for a simple reason that Ervin explains:
The last known activity along this fault line was the year 1658 and is estimated to be active every 300 years plus or minus 100 years. As of the time of this writing, it has been 356 years ago and is well within the potential period of its movement.
He has created an excellent overlay that shows the fault line in comparison to infrastructure along the path of it.
The USGS also has some solid fault line maps that you can use in Google Earth. If you visit their Quaternary Faults in Google Earth page, you’ll find a variety of KML files that you can download and explore in Google Earth.
Scientists from the University of Missouri and the University of New Mexico have been using Google Earth imagery to track an uncontacted tribe in Amazon rainforest in Brazil. While Google Earth adds a level of convenience for the researchers, tracking the tribe from afar can be essential to their survival. From Mongabay.com:
Small populations like these risk imminent extinction due to various threats. But contacting these tribes may prove even more disastrous. Diseases commonplace in our society, like the common cold, can wipe out large portions of such tribes in a matter of days. Therefore, using satellite images to regularly and remotely survey their populations, and track their movements could prove a good non-invasive way of keeping a close eye on the tribes and protecting them from afar.
The researchers have had difficulty finding the tribe in more recent satellite imagery, possible due to the tribe’s movement to escape drug traffickers in the area, but they continue their search to regain information about their current location.
Be sure to check out the full article on the Mongabay website.
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Houston, we have a problem! The technology that brought mainstream 3D geospatial visualization to the web browser is rendering on borrowed time.
It appears that the Google Earth Plug-in is on the brink of deprecation.
Google has not made any official announcements about deprecating the Earth Plug-in, but the Google Chrome team has continued to push forward with their advancement of web standards.
In the Chrome team’s drive for modernization, they have announced that in September of this year Chrome will no longer support legacy plug-ins. As if to leave no doubt, they specifically mentioned our beloved Earth Plug-in.
The world has certainly changed since that day in October of 2008 when the Earth Plug-in was first released to the world. Back then there were no iPads, and Android releases weren’t yet named after desserts. In the time since, mobile has become pervasive and the web has been optimized for small screens; legacy browser plug-ins have become an anachronism.
I am personally still in denial about this harsh reality. I spent many hours of my life developing with the Earth Plug-in and showing off nifty 3D browser-based demos. It is hard to believe that those glory days of visualization are fading to memory.
As I march toward acceptance of this prolific deprecation, I am starting to date 3D technologies again. I have played with Cesium, but she is rough around the edges and has the usability of an old handheld GPS unit. I have thought about licensing something from a traditional GIS vendor, but can’t justify the expense. In a moment of desperation, I even gave World Wind another, albeit fleeting, look.
None of those options are bad, they are just different, and won’t work for my 3D geo visualization needs.
My sincerest hope is that Google will announce an API for their WebGL instance of the “new Google Maps”. Although, even if a new 3D API is announced soon, I assume it won’t have feature parity with the Earth Plug-in, and won’t support the same instantiation and interaction methods.
That is to say, whatever 3D greatness Google releases next won’t be a plug-and-play replacement for the Earth Plug-in, and will require website administrators to refactor their code and redevelop their current offerings.
In summary, as I reflect back on all of the panning and zooming I have done in the Earth Plug-in, I am comforted knowing that I am a better neogeographer today for having crossed paths with this nifty piece of technology. On a personal level, I really hope that the Earth Plug-in enjoys her retirement.
Afterthought: It is unclear what a one year deprecation policy actually means when an entire class of technology is overcome by external events.
Update: It is important to note that Firefox has also started to distance themselves from NPAPI plug-ins like the Google Earth Plug-in: https://blog.mozilla.org/security/2014/02/28/update-on-plugin-activation/
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