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
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."
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
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.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.