Why Google Earth Won’t Be the Default Viewer for GIS Information

I’ve been talking quite a bit over the past few weeks about why I think Google Earth will become the default GIS viewer in the next year, but I thought I’d also post about what might keep it from coming that viewer.

  • Support for projections – Sure one can always change the projection of files, but I shouldn’t have to do that. GE should be able to handle different projections on the fly. ArcGIS has done this for years and I think it is a requirement for any GIS data viewer. Because most of our work is for the U.S. Department of Defense, we deal in UTM and State Plane most of the time. I’d just rather not have to worry about changing projections (or have an ArcGIS extension do this for me).

  • Customization – I’ve seen some really nice attempts at creating an interface inside GE (the National Geographic example is great), but I’d like to have an API exposed so I can add buttons and forms so I can add or subtract features I don’t need. Google Earth is simple, but sometimes I need something even more simple.

  • Printing – I know you can upgrade to a paid version of Google Earth that allows better printing, but I’d like to be able to set up templates that would standardize how maps are being printed. Some will say this isn’t what Google Earth is about, but I say any competitor to ArcReader/ArcExplorer should be able to print maps as I want them to be.

  • Advanced Query Tool – As we load up more complex information into Google Earth, we’ll need a better “Find” dialog to get at this data. I’m not sure how Google will view this since they are all about “I feel lucky”, but I know many Engineers and Planners who will want this capability.

  • Metadata – I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. We need better information about what the acquire date of the satellite imagery is and the source of the road information. I don’t want phone calls from clients telling me that the photo is out of date when at the bottom of the screen it says “Copyright 2005 Google”.

I know what you are thinking as you are reading this and I agree. Google Earth is a “geoviewer”, not an analysis tool. GE is about a 70% solution toward a great GIS tool, but its limitations are showing up in how I’d like to deploy it for my clients. I can see many cases when Google Earth is all they would need, but I suspect unless Google Earth opens up more on many of the above points as well as their planned updates to the datasets, I’ll probably be looking more toward ArcExplorer (I say this without even having a test drive so I reserve the right to say I don’t like ArcExplorer in the future) which will do many and more of what I want/need in a GIS viewer rather than Google Earth on its own.

More Google Earth Wishlist Items.

From Matt Perry

  • Support for other file formats– importing shapefiles, sde layers, wms, wfs would prevent forcing users to convert their data (and consquently have to maintain two datasets). Another route is that some real-time conversion utilities will arise that will let you add these disparate data sources with some server-side logic allowing you to maintain the data in it’s native format while serving it up as KML on-the-fly
  • Support for large vector datasets – I recently converted a 60,000 feature line shapefile into KML and the display totally choked. I cut it down to 600 and it was fine. The stock Google road layer doesn’t even render properly at all scales/angles. (At least not on my machine). If GE is going to be for real, they need to gracefully handle big vector datasets.

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