Maps and Locational applications on the Web are hot news. What makes these relevant to the Interactive Web are that both Google and Microsoft provide ways for the run-of-the-mill user to create there own maps using baseline content and enrich this by adding GPS, Geo-metadata, photographs and 3D CAD Sketches.
Both of these contenders allow the user to search for a location and create a base-map of: –
A hybrid of both data-sets
Google’s application is a local installation that interacts with their web Geo-data: Google Earth. Their web Geo-search tool is of course, called Google Maps.
Microsoft simply installs a link in the Start – Program Menu to Virtual Earth which is their Live Maps.
Each allows the user to create their own maps and publish the creation to the web however, Google Earth goes one step further by following classical GIS (Geographical Information System) style using layers. Each layer of data may be enabled/ disabled for the location allowing a richer, more customizable map. Microsoft has just released a beta add-on called Map Cruncher that apparently provides layer level customization of user data-sets but as yet they do not provide layered data within their maps the way Google Earth does. I say “apparently” because I have yet to try this out.
Each allows the addition of 3D CAD Sketches: Google uses Sketch Up their locally installed application and Microsoft their beta equivalent called 3DVia (created with Dassault Systemes) also a local application.
Both require the user to be logged in to their respective Google ID or Windows Live ID to publish and share their maps.
Google’s search within Google Earth shows other published data-sets in their proprietary KML/KMZ format which if shared by other users may be displayed and used.
Microsoft Offered me the opportunity to install something called the Microsoft Location Finder something I have as yet been unable to get to work. This allows a user connected via WiFi to the Web to see their own location in the Live Maps instead of simply using the IP address to provide a rough location. For the laptop user on the go this can be an invaluable add-on feature to get your location on the fly.
Google Earth have added a toggle feature to look outwards to the sky and stars.
Each have a pay business model for companies but the business models are something to investigate and blog another time.
Real World Implications: being able to search the web for shared data-sets and publish your own allows for a great variety of uses some more sinister than others: Google was asked by the Israeli Ministry of Defense to lower the satellite imagery resolution over Israel during the 2nd Lebanon War for fear that Hizbullah were using the imagery and coordinate data to target their Katyusha Missiles.
Also more recently Google Israel was reported in the Israeli news as being petitioned in the courts to remove false data published by a Palestinian. The Geo-data erroneously located what he claimed was an annexed Palestinian village however, the Israeli village located there had been built on open land and this claim was untrue.
Many of us who know the history of GPS are aware that the US DoD intentionally dithered the coordinate data available to civilian GPS users for years to prevent its misuse.
In short, these applications provide a powerful toolset but the user should verify the age of the base-map data content as these satellite images and maps are not updated every day.