April 18, 2012

Google Earth Takes A Step Toward Greater Openness

The Google Earth team announced on the Lat Long Blog that the new version of Google Earth will include some low-flying aerial imagery from balloons and kites. This will give the app with over 1 billion downloads a cool new layer to play around with.

But the really interesting part of the announcement lies in the fact that anyone can contribute their own balloon/kite imagery, effectively crowdsourcing the project. Google even outlined how to get started. With a minimal $100 investment in equipment and parts, anyone can help expand the collection.

Right now, the balloon & kite imagery is pretty limited. But historically crowds have proven eager to contribute to any project with global reach. Just look at Wikipedia and OpenStreetMap.

Google Maps has recently lost some big clients (like Wikipedia and Foursquare) after it started charging its heaviest users. These websites and many others have jumped ship to OpenStreetMap, which is a free, crowdsourced product. I hope this step toward greater openness will expand into more corners of Google Earth and Google Maps and maybe make their platform free to everyone again.