Thursday, September 14, 2006

Location as Context: Google Earth Turns a Toy into a Content Marketing Device

The server for downloads of the latest and greatest version of Google Earth was pretty well hosed yesterday so it took me a while to get the new version that supports contextual featured multimedia content. An example screenshot is below:It's not all that remarkable a feature in and of itself - contextual content has been on Google Earth, Google Maps and other mapping services for quite some time, not to mention a growing galaxy of mashups - but it's interesting to see the type of content and the caliber of players taking part in this feature. National Geographic and Discovery Networks content is featured prominently, the two major U.S.-based suppliers of travel media, with links to their ad-supported online content from the Google Maps callout boxes. Video clips of interesting stores and destinations is provided from the TurnHere online collection, more mini-documentaries than ads but nevertheless having a promotional bent. Other content from the United Nations and other non-profit sources is featured as well.

These content partnerships are providing first-rate content via Google Earth, not user-generated sources which are left at this point to the mashups to play with. It's a small enough collection with high enough quality and filtering capabilities that Google Earth can act as a visual taxonomy device, allowing users to define the geographic scope of their interests and then overlay the type content that's of interest to them at that time. There is already a fairly rich layer for other types of content for dining, shopping and travel in Google Earth, but in this new step of Featured Content filter allows publishers to promote premium content contextualized in ways that go well beyond simple maps or search engine results. So in a sense, think of the various filters on Google Earth as sophisticated vertical search tools. As more video content makes its way into the mix one can see tools like Google Earth becoming guides to video viewing when people have a hankering for a particular region.

With a growing array of content visualization software packages coming to market for professionally-oriented content it's important to consider how tools such as Google Earth can be used to provide a new kind of visual taxonomy that can support a deeper analysis of problems and opportunities that relate to one another in geospatial terms. Some of these are already integrated into Google Maps via its API facilities, but for users seeking a more high-power tool the Google Earth platform may provide a higher performance value-add platform on which to build them for premium audiences. Just as Google itself seemed like a trifling plaything when it first launched many years ago, these seemingly trivial tools wind up forming the foundation of powerful content services before you know it.
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