Google is looking to increase the range and variety of its geographical information, and hopes its users will play a big part in the expansion.
The company’s two main geo-linked tools, Google Earth and Google Maps, are already host to an expanding universe of geographically-tagged content. Some of it comes from Google, such as the recently added map layers that display geographically-relevant Wikipedia articles or photos from the Panoramio website. Users can make their own data sets using Google Earth and publish the results as a KML (keyhole markup language) file, which other users can download and add to their copy of Google Earth.
“We want to expand and add more regional information to the geo web layer,” says Peter Birch, product manager of Google Earth.
Birch hopes the increasing usefulness of geo-tagged information will push users to add their own to further enrich the scope of data available — and he offers evidence to suggest that might happen.
Panoramio, the Spanish photo site that specialises in photos of landmarks taken with cameras that can embed GPS data, has seen membership rocket from around 100,000 in January, when Google added the layer, to more than a million users now, Birch says.
In a recent demonstration for the IDG News Service in Tokyo, he spun a laptop computer around. A quick search of Google brought up a dataset for an overlay showing railway stations in Tokyo. A couple of clicks later, they were overlayed on a satellite image. A couple more clicks brought up Wikipedia articles on Tokyo landmarks and photos from across the city from Panoramio, all overlayed on the image.
“If you’re visiting Tokyo you want to be able to look at an area and see what’s around it,” he said while demonstrating how this small handful of layers added not just images and information on landmarks, but also made it easy to figure out nearby railway stations.
While KML datasets and GPS data embedded in photos make it easy to integrate the content with Google Earth or Maps, there’s no standard way to add geo-tagging to a web page that would enable a news story to be tagged with where the event happened, or allow a company to add a locator for its offices.
There exists a Geo RSS protocol that enables the embedding of geo-data in RSS feeds. Birch says he expects the same to happen for websites as geography-related applications become more common.