Searching Google Earth

Ran Hock

Ran Hock

You may be familiar with Google Earth, but there’s a lot beyond the surface.  Search guru Ran Hock has applied his considerable expertise to this unusual database.  A lot of content is available, but it’s not necessarily easy to find; Ran suggests spending some time exploring the panels and menus.  Photos from Panoramio, YouTube videos, links from Google Books, historical maps (you can even integrate the map on a Google Earth map and change its transparency!) are all available.  Even Ran says he continues to be amazed at how much is out there and the amount of traditional and geographic content has been integrated. 

Google has begun integrating new high resolution data into its maps, so for example, you can see people’s shadows, plates on restaurant tables, people outside their homes.   This has led to privacy and security concerns–some government buildings have been deliberately pixelated. 

Different types of data have been integrated into many maps.  Ran showed maps of solar job growth in the US, location maps relating to Henry VIII’s wives, information from blogs, etc.  Popup boxes present websites related to maps, and animation is frequent.

Ran’s advice for searching:

  • Start by browsing through the options under the layers panel.
  • If you want information about a place, go to that place first, then use the search box.  You are not limited to geographic terms in the search box. 
  • You can use OR operators in the search box.    You can also distinguish between singular and plural terms (try “shipwreck” OR “shipwrecks” and notice the difference).
  • Many searches are unpredictable.  Be aware that sometimes Google does some stemming.
  • Searches basically occur within the area that is visible on the screen.
  • Search options include city, state,  country, street numbers, zip/postal codes, latitude/longitude.
  • Red pins are from Google Maps; blue ones have been added by users.  Search terms do not necessarily appear on red pins because of indexing.  In the side panel, blue results appear under “Web results”.
  • You can search maps on the Advanced Search page of Google by limiting your search to file types KML or KMZ.  Or you can search both by using the filetype operator in a normal search box.  Caution:  results from these searches can be very messy.
  • You can search a term in a regular Google search and add the term “Google Earth” to get some interesting results.  Be sure to navigate to your area of interest if it’s not visible.
  • Take advantage of blogs to identify Google Earth content.  There are lots of them to get search tips and help.  Google has an “official Google Earth blog“.

If you are a lover of maps (like me), one caution is appropriate:  you can use up (waste?) a lot of time on Google Earth.  But it’s really fascinating!

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and CIL2009 Blog Coordinator

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