Who doesn’t know Google Maps and its big brother, Google Earth? Google Earth is a classic desktop application but now also has a web browser interface, which is not a replacement to the classic Google Earth but advances the goal of moving the application from a legacy desktop platform to the web. As we all know, Google is not an imaging satellite operator, though it did try to do be in the past when it owned the Terra Bella satellites, which are now owned and operated by Planet. However, we are including Google Earth in this in our article as it has become the benchmark for consumer mapping and is widely used by many businesses.
Google mines data from the public domain, collects large volumes of aerial imagery, purchases commercial satellite imagery, creates its own map data content and location-based services, and links all this data successfully to its web search and advertising services. Google at its core is not a mapping business but they show how geographic data and a mapping platform is integral to its success as the world’s largest web search and advertising enterprise.
There’s no need to describe all GE’s capabilities but the most powerful features are its massive data content of imagery, terrain, and vector GIS data, geocoding, navigation, and of course it’s slick 3D globe that operates on any desktop computer, smartphone or tablet.
In our experience, despite its powerful capabilities, GE does have shortcomings. The data content is limited to whatever Google has available in its platform. A common complaint that we hear from our customers is that the imagery in GE is too old or does not have the image for a specific historic time window. GE does not provide spectral band data that is needed for the professional image analysts (ENVI users). Image metadata is lacking – there is no information on how the imagery was collected and often the image acquisition date is incorrect or cannot be found. Imagery is not always produced to the highest possible accuracy level. Users are unaware of an image’s specific accuracy. GE’s objective is to attract consumers to its search website and driving search-engine usage and advertising revenue. GE is focused on major metro regions and developed countries, so or rural areas of the world. GE does not allow data download, large format printing, distribution, or content can be lacking in remote data sharing. GE has little to no flexibility for displaying and publishing vector overlays, as they are tied to the platform. GE does not allow customization or user-requested image refresh. One other item to consider mentioning is that the Google Earth terms of service (https://www.google.com/help/terms_maps/) may not be conducive to some business needs. Finally, there is the issue of privacy and confidentiality where platforms like GE collect customer data for future monetization. These disadvantages are exactly the advantages of the following commercial satellite imagery subscription services!