Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's Not Just Earth ... It's Google Earth

As CNET's Elsa Wenzel notes in her review of Web 2.0 mapping software, the effectiveness of any mapping software lies not just in the application itself, but also in the purpose for which it is being used. With so many different mapping sites, from old stalwarts like MapQuest to newer sites like Google Maps and Windows Live Local, it can be difficult to choose which one to use. Each has its own particular benefits and concomitant quirkiness. All of the various mapping websites offer directions. Some, like Yahoo Maps and Windows Live Local, integrate live traffic information, which can help avoid trouble spots and give a more accurate driving time prediction. MapQuest remains among the most popular, in spite of the fact that newer mapping sites have surpassed it in features, precisely because it is so old and people are used to using it. Google Maps and Google Earth, the first of the new crop of mapping sites, were the first to open up their source code, allowing for the proliferation of mashups for everything from locating real estate to pinpointing disease outbreaks. Windows Live Local can also be interesting in that it showcases a "birds-eye view," a 2-D or 3-D view of certain cities showing all four sides of buildings, rather than just their roofs as in a satellite view.

Ultimately, for our purposes, the only ones worth consideration are Windows Live Local, Google Maps' My Maps, and Google Earth. This is because these are the only mapping systems that allow users to mark their maps with text, photos and videos. In the final analysis, Google Earth wins out for several reasons. First, Windows Live Local, while perhaps the most sophisticated with it's "birds-eye view" software and live traffic updates, these features are not particularly necessary for our class activities. What's more, many of Live Local's features require Windows to operate, and when zooming, sometimes the frame rate can be slow enough that it's jarring.

Google Earth, like Google Maps' My Maps, allows users to integrate their own content. It uses the same natural language interface, which allows for easier and faster searches. It also starts out with a beautiful NASA image of the entire globe, and features smooth zooming software with no pixelation. The software, which is a downloadable program, also comes with many pictures and links to sites like Wikipedia already built into its maps, giving users additional information about the places they are mapping. These features make Google Earth my choice for our maps projects.

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