Corrections or additions?

This article was prepared by Kathleen McGinn Spring for the April

27, 2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Google Maps Zoom in on Your World

Checking out the highway access to the satellite office your company

is thinking of leasing? Want to see what your reclusive neighbor’s

pool looks like? Eager to find out exactly how close to the ocean the

vacation condo you are about to rent really is?

Google Maps may well provide the visuals you are looking for. Located

at maps.google.com (but it’s easier just to type "Google maps"

into the Google search engine), the site is still in beta form, but

appears ready for prime time. It gives directions, much as Mapquest

does, but the wow factor is in its aerial shots. Yes, Mapquest offers

satellite images too, but Google Maps offers far more detail. What’s

more, it allows you to "fly." Just press a directional cursor and you

are zooming up Route 1, or skimming over the Grand Canyon, on your way

to the Hoover Dam.

This heady experience is the result of Google’s purchase of

California-based digital mapping company Keyhole (at www.keyhole.com)

in October, 2004. The 3D experience it is able to offer as a result of

this acquisition is made possible by Keyhole’s impressive technology.

Or, as Google said in announcing the acquisition: "Keyhole’s

technology combines a multi-terrabyte database of mapping information

and images taken from satellites and airplanes with easy-to-use

software."

Google started to offer a map feature including Keyhole technology, at

no cost, about a month ago. The version available to anyone with

Internet access includes features that allow users to see – rather

than read about – the locations of hotels, airports, tennis courts,

and restaurants near the address in which they are interested. It also

allows them to pan all around the address, maybe in an attempt to find

a better-located hotel, potential office location, or neighborhood to

buy a new home.

While the free version of Keyhole, as incorporated in Google Maps, is

an impressive tool – and an endlessly amusing toy – those willing to

pony up a subscription fee can enjoy a far richer experience. For $29

a month, Keyhole adds a number of features, including animation, maps

that rotate and tilt for a better view, and a distance calculator that

lets users lay out, say, a five-mile jogging route in the city where

their company’s convention is about to be held.

And while the free version covers the continental United States and

Canada, the $29 version covers the world.

Writing about the subscription version, a visitor to

WebmasterWorld.com, an online tech forum, says, "I am just blown away.

I have spent the past three hours touring the world. Favorite stops –

Mount St. Helens, the Vatican, Paris, Tokoyo, Seattle, and San

Francisco. My grandmother had memories of the first automobiles,

planes, radios, TVs, and space flight. I think that this software

probably impacts me as much as those things did her. Wow."

Wow, indeed.

For those willing to ante up substantially more money, $599 to be

exact, there is even more wow in Keyhole’s professional use version.

With this Keyhole, says Google, users can "zoom down to detail showing

individual buildings, search for existing businesses by name or

category." It is possible to import lists of buildings, overlays

showing demographic trends, proposed developments, and even site

plans. Users can share lists of locations, complete with custom icons

and detailed descriptions, with clients or co-workers.

The pitch is: "Become an instant site expert without costly,

time-consuming site visits. Turn on dozens of bundled data layers –

businesses, hotels, restaurants, city boundaries, traffic counts,

shopping center locations. Measure distances, lots, and buildings. All

with the complete freedom to fly to any view with amazing speed."

There is no free test drive of this professional version, but it is

possible, at least theoretically, to try the $29 Keyhole at no cost

for seven days. Incredibly eager to fly over Paris myself, I tried to

sign up a few months ago, and planned to shell out the $29 if the

experience was even half of what was promised. But I was unable to

sign on. The registration code is 15 digits long and case sensitive. I

entered it, again and again, with no luck. I studied the FAQ section

for those who are not able to sign on. I attempted to contact the

company.

Then, just the other day, I tried again, using a different E-mail

address in case that had been the problem. Still nothing. I do think

that the software is well worth $29, but am afraid that, after paying

up, I will still be unable to sign on.

In the meantime, Google Maps is a great consolation. Its New Jersey

images are based on a November, 2000, base map with inserts taken in

April, 2003. These are good dates, because the view of the earth is

largely unobscured by leaves.

There is another caveat in the dating, though. Anyone using the

software for serious business planning – or even for relocation or

vacation planning – might want to check the dates on which the photos

were taken. An aerial shot of my neighborhood, for example, shows an

island in a river a short distance from my street – an island that is

all in one piece. As a result of the early-April floods, that island

is now several smaller islands, and its tree cover is not what it had

been. A home that had a view of trees when the photo was taken might

now have a view of a house in Pennsylvania, on the other side of the

river. The houses on the Pennsy side are most attractive, so the

change is not necessarily good or bad – but it is a change.

There could be similar changes as a result of hurricanes, earthquakes,

fires, road closings, or new construction that occurred fairly

recently. A list of when photos were taken for each geographical area

appears on Keyhole.

Google Maps, powered by Keyhole, provides a whole new look at the

world – right down to the level of your neighbor’s poolside lanai.

It’s easy to use, and for those not unduly concerned about privacy,

yet another amazing gift from the ‘Net.


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