Google Earth Has Landed

Google has launched its much anticipated Google Earth (GE) makeover of Keyhole. Dubbed "a 3D interface to the planet," it's basically an upgraded version of of the Keyhole software, integrated with Google Local and personalization.

Yes it's cool, it's loaded with features . . . but will people download and use it? (Clearly everyone reading this will, but what about the broader public?)

People love Google Maps, but those are Web based. This is a client-side download. True, Keyhole was a similar application; but I'm somewhat suprised it's not being launched online (clicking on the listings results sends you to Google Local). Over time I believe GE will need to be more fully integrated with the Web product. But that raises the question of the GE product strategy.

There are three versions of GE: a free version and two upgrades that cost money and offer better resolution and more features.

MSN is doing something extremely similar with its Virtual Earth tool and I will be interested to see whether that's entirely Web-based, which I believe it will be. Even though toolbars and desktop search have made client side apps viable, we'll see . . .

GE appears to have an impressive range of features (including easy personalization and viral elements):

  • 3D buildings in major cities across the United States
  • 3D terrain showing mountains, valleys, and canyons around the world
  • Integrated Google Local search to find local information such as hotels, restaurants, schools, parks, and transportation
  • Fast, dynamic navigation
  • Video playback of driving directions
  • Tilt, rotate, and activate 3D terrain and buildings for a different perspective on a location
  • Easy creation and sharing of annotations among users

I haven't yet been able to try them all — I'm racing off to a meeting (I'll use it to get directions). I'll write about GE more after I play around with it further.

The mapping space has become highly competitive and an alternative way into local search. Soon Google, Yahoo! (which has quietly improved the resolution of its maps), AOL's MapQuest and MSN will all be competing not only for search market share but also in the new, parallel universe of maps.

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UPDATE:

Spoke with John Hanke, GM of Google's Keyhole unit, this afternoon and got clarifiication regarding why there weren't more new GE features launched in Google Maps. He said that GE is "pushing the edge of the envelope" and is being seen as a kind of a lab to develop "what's possible."

It's self-consciously not a product intended for the masses. And Hanke said that over time more of the features of GE could be integrated into the Web product. But the advanced features can't be immediately plugged into an online app with a "zero footprint," which is how the Maps product comparies to the "heavier" client-side GE download.

Hanke gave me a description of the personalization and various advanced mapping features and I'm eager to test them out later today.
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More from Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal.

The full press release.

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