Tom Ding writes:

When I discovered last week that my brand new phone gives me unlimited Google Maps on-the-go, I had one of those ‘The Future Has Arrived’ moments, able to locate the nearest pubs and bus stops at a glance. Which got me to thinking about the different functions of a map, and how cleverly Google has partitioned them. You see, Google Maps is useful indeed: It can be a Sat Nav in your pocket or a route-finder on your PC and it has an interface perfectly suited for such quick tasks.

Perhaps though, we should regard it as the latest evolution of the 1920s ‘wrist-mounted, wind-up Sat-Nav’ shown in the picture at the top of this post. Google Maps gives you no context. It is great, so long as you know exactly where you want to go to. It is a road map, not an atlas, and definitely not a globe.

And this is where Google Earth comes in. Here, exactly the same data has been used for something completely different, and this time it is all about looking, rather than finding. Instead of the watch, I think of Google Earth as being a modern equivalent of the Gallery of Maps in the Vatican- somewhere that you go when you cannot see a place first-hand, somewhere that you could easily lose a few hours and somewhere that not enough people know about.

And Google Earth is getting better. We are now all free, in a Wikipedia-esque spirit of collaboration, to hack the program, at least a little bit, and create our own ‘layers’ dedicated to whatever topic we choose. Just this week, someone has published a layer called “Crisis in Darfur“. There is a layer of “Lighthouses in New Zealand” and another of Frank Gehry buildings. With all of this within a couple of clicks reach, I can’t help but feel like Google is biding their time here- waiting for their user-generated library to reach a critical mass before they tell the world about it.

By then, it will not just be an old fashioned globe, but an encyclopedia inside a globe. We will be able to visually explore almost any subject by geography, by topic and by time. And then, well, then the future really will have arrived.

One thought on “The world in your pocket

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