Google extended an olive branch to map-loving developers with a Google Earth API and browser plug-in to let them create geography-oriented mashups.
Google Earth is the search vendor's satellite image-based mapping application, which lets users zoom in and view images of buildings and terrain in 3-D anywhere in the world. Google acquired the technology when it purchased Keyhole in 2004.
Such applications are becoming increasingly valuable for users who want to leverage the Geoweb, or the blend of user-generated content associated with a location to boost the utility of their Web browsing.
Programmers will control the Google Earth camera and import 3-D models to build new 3-D apps for users, Paul Rademacher, technical lead for the Google Earth API and browser plug-in, told eWEEK.
For example, the company is enabling programmers to embed 3-D images of buildings from various cities and switch to Google Sky mode to view constellations and other images. "I expect to see a few X-wing fighters imported into that," he said, half jokingly referring to the fictional spacecraft so ubiquitous in the Star Wars trilogy.
Rademacher, who created Housing Maps, a mashup of Craig's List and Google Maps, before joining Google, said developers at real estate Web sites will likely show 3-D tiltable views of real estate properties with 3-D models.
Airlines could use the plug-in to render flight paths in 3-D. Travel and e-commerce Web sites would also likely use the tools to create useful utilities for consumers.
To this point, Google has allowed developers to upload KML (Keyhole Markup Language) files and share them within Google Earth, but people still had to launch Google Earth to view the data. Instead of asking people to come to Google Earth, the API and plug-in are providing a bridge to let programmers embed the app on their own Web sites.
"In the same way that we've seen 2-D map mashups, we're now letting people create 3-D map mashups by overlaying their own content on top of Google Earth and, most importantly, put that 3-D window inside their own Web pages," Rademacher said.
There are no initial plans to directly make money from this API and plug-in, which are free for programmers. However, a Google spokesperson confirmed that, as with so many of Google's Web services and apps, Google will show local ads alongside maps listings.
"Right now what you're seeing is just different applications of how you can see text ads served against audiences that are aggregating against certain services," the spokesperson said. "Will it evolve? Who knows, but that's where we are today."
One of the catalysts for the Google Earth API lies in the wild success of the company's Maps API, which allowed programmers to take a Google Map and put it on their own Web site.
From there, thousands of individual programmers and companies took the API and laid their own content over it to create mashups that were useful for their personal or business use.