A Two years is four product versions for us. Although it is not a policy of Google to comment on future product release, we generally look forward to releasing a product every six months.
CTO, GOOGLE Earth
Q What are the forthcoming products/services from Google in next couple of years?
A Two years is four product versions for us. Although it is not a policy of Google to comment on future product release, we generally look forward to releasing a product every six months. To talk about the areas where we are working in , one would be, more data for the world, for example if you look at the high-resolution coverage in Google Earth and Google maps of India, we have many more places for which the database has to built. We are working to build that data at every opportunity so that we can make it comprehensive.
Right now we have a lot of satellite data. We also have a lot of aerial photography data. Aerial photography is available mostly for the US cities. In January, we launched the aerial photography for almost all of UK and Germany and the people there were excited about it. It is more difficult to acquire satellite data, for some places it is not possible to buy aerial photography. For example – in Sudan it is not possible to buy satellite data. We are trying to work on this factor.
We are also working very aggressively in our next version to provide better support for non-English language. It happens to be one of our most important issues. People find Google Earth to be useful. However, it is not useful if it does not have the data that one is looking at and it is not useful if it is not in the language one wants to deal with. We are releasing a version soon that has support for a variety of languages. Today Google search engine operates in around 120 languages. Hopefully, we can get all those language translations. For example, an Arabic speaker in US may want Arabic labels for things he is searching for.
Another big thing that we are focused on is community’s role in maps. Historically, maps have been the domain of experts, where experts created the maps, published and read the map. There is no way for the user to read the map and make changes in it. For example, it will be great, if we have an option where our users could actually edit in the names. We are building all these tools. Once we believe we are working in a reliable way, we are going to have millions of people editing data. There are several organizations like the OGC and others, who are trying to create standards for the geographic information. Is Google in sync with these standards or do you have different standards on which the GIS community has to learn the new language.
There is a way Google employees deal with the data when we build our database and there is a way our customer’s deal with the data when they use our products. So for us as customers of other data providers, we prefer and almost insist on OGC formats. We are members of OGC and we support OGC, so it is very important for us to get data that is easy to understand.
Once we build our database and streamline it for our client software, it is in our internal format. It is not a proprietary format, which is not in public domain. It is a secret dedicated technique to the client, which is encrypted and has got security protections. In Google Earth, there is KML, which are ways developers, can control the way we use our data. KML is pretty much Google specific. It is mostly GML specifying geometry.
Unfortunately the way it is, when you are innovating, there is no standard for the thing that you are about to build because it is new. What Google Earth needs is three things. We need the place and the object where the mercury or polygon is, also we need to know how viewers should see that and where the cameraman should be taking a picture of that place and the third requirement is we need to have information about that place in a rich HTML form because we do not want our map viewers to become a web page, but we want to be the web browser at that place. Today we have more downloads of Google everyday than that number of customers. That does not mean that we have beaten them, we are not competing, rather doing something different.
Q Will the Google enterprises then operate on Keyhole Markup Language (KML)?
A Our commercial offering is KML. You would see more KML based tools in the future as more and more companies, which make CAD packages, would be exporting KML and provide facility to read and write KML. People today are using plugins to read ESRI data formats and also read and write KML. I think KML probably has the standard, status that Microsoft Word had few years after its introduction.
Q Recently we learnt about the Bentley Microstation which has come up with a facility where they could publish their maps and drawings on Google directly. Comment.
A Industry is embracing KML as an export mechanism because their customers want that so it is not that GIS vendors want to support Google Earth, they sell the tools to their customers. For instance if the Dubai Municipality wants to publish data in Google Earth form and they thought certain vendors had GIS package they would ask them if they support KML. So these GIS companies are good business people, they sell what people want to buy. I think what is unique about Google Earth are two things. First, it is easy for average people, those who are inexperienced in GIS to explore the world on their own as people love doing things on their own. Also I think the GIS companies are now comfortable to learn they are not our competitors. Earlier they used to be afraid and think we wanted to be like them. We used to tell them, we do not want to be like you, our whole business system is not for you. I think they finally understood that as they realize that our success has not cost them any customers. It has actually increased the GIS market. Nobody stops using powerful GIS packages to use Google Earth but people start using Google Earth and then look at powerful GIS data.
Q Is this the reason why the Google Earth has limited number of GIS tools? It would have been a little effort for Google to have gone ahead to provide few more tools. Comment.
A Yes it was done deliberately. We have three versions with different features. There is a Plus version with few extra features, probe version with many features. GIS tools are built for people with data who need help processing it in the right way. That is totally different, so our pre-version does not add any features about people having data, that is the design choice, there is no instruction, no menu box, it is invisible because our users of the pre version do not have data. We do have a professional version with a lot of new features. The enterprise version has even more features along with WMS. It is automatic if you type request anything you will discover all the layers, you can pick what you want, you fly around and turn them into same thing.
Q What is your view about your competition with Microsoft?
A Microsoft has not yet begun to compete with us. They are competition to our product Google local, which is our local information system apart from another product called Google maps. These products are browser based java scripts and these are things that Microsoft has a product for like Window Live Local. Sometimes they say that their products can beat Google Earth. I think that is not a very technical statement.
It is a marketing statement because Google Earth’s clientele uses open GIS, texture mapping and 3D hardware, which is different from a web browser. However there is no doubt they will compete in the future.
Q Microsoft has entered into partnership with Pictometry and various other companies. What is your view on this and also on the Terra Server which Microsoft has?
A They are very active, they are buying and acquiring data, and companies. They are developing expertise in the things that we do. Terra Server is a website that delivers previews from free data so that has nothing to do with Google Earth or even Google maps and even if they have it, it is not related. I have no doubt that they will compete in the future. But we have not seen them competiting yet. Competition is partially about being first, partially about being best and partially about being tough and we are the first right now and we are the best, but the future is unknown. There are data along with maps present in Google Maps for the US, but for most of Asia region there is not much associated data with the imageries.
It is true, but this is an internal decision made right now. We have maps of most of the countries in the world, but we do not yet have local information for all areas. For example- we might have maps for India, but not have restaurant information for India or business listings or yellow pages information. Hence it does not make sense to release Google Local in a new country before we have local information.
Q Are you identifying any chief geographical area as your market?
A There are some key markets in the world where there has never been internet mapping of any kind ever. So when we show up it is amazing, people love it. On the other hand there are places where there has been internet mapping for a long time and when we show up we are like the 20th person to show up, so it is not such a shocking thing. Then you have the way people reprsent and read maps. Japan is one of those places, Japan has an extremely difficult system of numbering buildings. Japan puts numbers of street on a building. Finding a place is extremely difficult. If you think of a block, you know it is here so as soon as there was internet. Japanese technologies build internet maps and they are good so Japan as a country has great mapping solutions, we have mapping solutions too and we are introducing them as internet market share, but that is one where good competitors already exist and that is one way there is more work for us. Right now the best countries for the Google Earth user are probably US, Japan, UK, Germany, France, Italy. These are the places with lots of data, multiple broadband internet. We are buying data for many areas all the time as fast as we can put on Google Earth.
Q What more features we will have with reference to 3D viewing of images and maps in Google Earth?
A What we have, the terrain is 3D, some mountains and valley. The 2D pictures from a particular angle like the satellite point of view, but it might look 3D. I think 3D is great. For example- the Pictometry type site, I think is beautiful but they are not very useful. If you have the connected world, they are beautiful they look great, but if you want to fly from one place to another they would always be continuous. I want to work on 3D geometry and I am anxious about it.
Q Google is integrating data from different domains. You have data from National Geographic, census data and so on. Do you foresee Google Earth will form a data warehouse for various domains?
A Yes it will be an index for information. It will be an index where one can search for any information they are looking for. As one types in what they want with Google Earth one can fly to a place and search a place. When you fly real close you get local search and when you fly high up, you get broad search. If I had all the world’s news stories in Google Earth one can get more local news. We have built prototypes of news service like that.
This is the kind of thing where I would like to see with all the world’s information on Google Earth. Right now it is far away and it is not macro but micro data. For instance we need to get in front of a building take a picture followed by somebody in the building to report there has been a mapping conference and so on. So we need the involvement of the local business operators.
Q What is the revenue model for Google? You are planning to buy data, companies and if so where is the money going to be generated to undertake such operations?
A There is a business model. However, even if there was not, our impact on the society so far in nine months has changed the way the world’s people think about looking at the world. The Google founders are so excited about that I think we would do it even if there was no business model. We are so proud the way we have advanced. So it is not like we are being measured everyday although, we have always been profitable. We have our professional products to be sold to professionals. The actual business model of Google in long term would be that when there is a complete earth with millions of local listings, then one can be advertising. If one clicks on a store from where you want to buy something, at least the user will know we helped them go to that place and maybe happy to pay for that service. However we are not worried about that until we have you know a few hundred thousand users and business associates. Google will do that later.
Q A lot of people are authorized to update on the Google. So you must be putting up the data in some projection system. How do you see the compatibility of the data being uploaded and the data, which is there on Google Earth?
A Right now we do all the processing ourselves. It is a very complex system, which we built ourselves that runs across mini servers as – Google computer infrastructure. We do all the re-projections, all the digital image processing, blending, mosaic. Now in the future we would allow government to upload city data or people upload the picture of their house then we have to decide how we are we going to manage that matching. For projections we have pretty broad library of projections.