Saturday, December 09, 2006
Every once in a while you come across a piece of technology that instantly grabs you and you can't stop saying "Oh my god!" When I bought my 12" Mac Powerbook, for instance, just opening the box was an experience. Each item was laid out perfectly -- everything I pulled out was well designed from the power connector with the glowing ring to the pulsating light next to the latch that made it look like it was breathing.
I recently went to the Tech Museum Awards, and one of the laureates, Mohammed Bah Abba, had created a refrigerator that requires no electricity -- basically uses two clay pots with wet sand in between them. This device helped keep food fresh longer in poor rural areas in Africa. And the group FogQuest uses these big meshes that collected potable water from fog (yes, the white stuff that hangs around in the air) for people in Central and South America. Simple, elegant technologies that have a huge impact to help with basic human needs.
Due in large part to the community of people who use Google Earth, it has also become one of those technologies. Having worked on it for almost 7 years, you would think the magic would have worn off for me by now, but amazingly enough, it hasn't. Every once in a while we add a new feature -- and it's like I was looking at it for the first time. Hours pass by without me noticing.
The new Geographic Web layer we released today is one of those features. We've taken the rich data of Wikipedia, Panoramio, and the Google Earth Community and made a browsable layer in Google Earth. Now you can fly anywhere in the world and see what people have written about it, photographed, or posted. I went hopping around from the southern tip of South America to the mosques in the Middle East to the Maldives Islands, immersed in a wealth of information, and I really felt like I was visiting each place through eyes of people who had been there. It was really engaging to compare, say, the Grand Canyon through the photos in Panoramio to the view from Google Earth, where I could follow the Colorado River through each.
To experience this for yourself, all you need to do is start Google Earth and explore the world. As of today you will see new icons -— the Wikipedia globe, the Panoramio star, or the information “i” of the Google Earth Community —- so just click on any of them to explore information about a place. You can also easily turn it off in the Layers panel on the lower left.
This is by far one of my most favorite layers we've ever done, and I really hope you enjoy it. To use our founding group's tagline, Happy travels!