KML is now an international standard

As reported by the Google LatLong Blog, KML has now officially become an OGC (Open Geospatial Consortium) standard.

According to Google, there are tens of millions of KML documents available online, hosted on over 100,000 unique domain names.  The number of files isn’t a huge surprise, but 100,000 unique domains seem like a ton!

As part of this, Google has transferred ownership of the standard to the OGC.  To quote Google:

This transfer of ownership is a strong reflection of Google’s commitment to open standards. Fundamentally, our interest is not to control information, but rather to encourage its spread.

Microsoft started adding support for KML last October, so getting KML accepted as a standard is another step toward making it the ubiquitous mapping standard on the web.

Trees and Highway Overpasses

I’ve long felt that two things would need to happen to get to the next level in 3D imagery — trees and highway overpasses.

Since one of the neat features in Google Earth is the ability to fly a route, having proper overpasses would make things look much better.  The latest version of Virtual Earth has some cities modeled in “version 2.0″, which include a number of advances.  To the right is a bridge over a river.  While the bottom is still solid (you can’t see the river under the bridge) and the edges are rough, it’s really coming along nicely.  The tighter mesh of elevation data is getting us closer to where I’d like to see it.  I would think we’ll see some real progress in this area within the next year or so.

The bigger problem is the lack of trees.  Amazingly, Microsoft has begun to fix that already, too!  I really felt that was still well off in the future, but I’m glad I was wrong.  It only works in their “version 2.0″ cities (Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix), but it’s really neat.  As Google Earth Blog had speculated, the trees are generated automatically by Microsoft.  Hand-placing thousands of trees would be an impossible task to keep up with.

In addition, the trees don’t affect load time very much.  They only have to load a given tree type once, then tweak the height and diameter for each placement of it.  As such, I’ve found the trees load very quickly — usually before most of the buildings.

I’m a bit concerned about performance, though.  The tree models look excellent, and with thousands of them scattered around a city, I have to think that it’ll make things move a little slower.  I’m currently out of town on an old laptop, so everything is slow right now.  When I get home to my primary PC I’ll really start putting it through it’s paces.

Microsoft says that the updated data will roll out to the current set of 250 3D cities “soon” and I’m really looking forward to it.

Yahoo updates imagery for most of the United States

Not to be outdone by Google and Microsoft, Yahoo has updated their imagery for most of the United States.  While it’s still simply 2D maps, they’ve updated a ton of imagery.

Since it’s inception, Yahoo has added over 500 cities across the world, but today has seen the biggest change ever in their US data.

According to the Yahoo Local & Maps Blog, they’ve gone both wide and deep:

Going wide, we’ve made big improvements in our wall-to-wall coverage of the United States, improving our back-drop data for a number of complete states, including California, Oregon, New York, the Carolina’s, and numerous other states in the west and midwest.  State-wide, you’ll see an improvement in freshness, color and clarity.

Going deep, and I think more importantly, we’ve enabled up to 2 extra zoom levels of aerial photography and satellite imagery for the Satellite button for hundreds of cities around the US.  Not only can you see more detail, but in many places the imagery has gotten a welcomed refresh as well.

It pales in comparison to the new features that Microsoft has rolled out, but it’s nice to see them continue to press on.

Tons of new features in Virtual Earth

To go with the new ClearFlow traffic, Microsoft has just released a slew of new features for Virtual Earth.  They include:

  • Export collections to GPS using KML, GPX and GeoRSS.
  • Improved 3D cities.  Las Vegas, Dallas, Denver and Phoenix are now in “version 2″, which includes higher-res textures, more buildings and even rendered tress.  Other cities will be added/updated as time goes on.
  • Better 3D modeling using 3DVIA.  Microsoft’s answer to SketchUp, 3DVIA, has seen a handful of improvements.
  • Labels for Birds Eye imagery.
  • MapCruncher Integration.  MapCruncher allows you to do overlays in a similar manner to Google Earth.  It’s more complex than needed for simple overlays, but it’s very powerful for large or uneven overlays.  With this release you can add your MapCrunched layers to your Collections, then share them.
  • Capture hi-def movies of your tours, up to 1920×1080.
  • Improved KML display.

For more, check out the full post on the Virtual Earth / Live Maps blog, or read Frank’s write-up on the Google Earth Blog.

Microsoft launches “ClearFlow” traffic on Live Maps

Microsoft has just released “ClearFlow” traffic data on Live Maps, but it’s far more interesting than you might think.  While it shows the colored traffic speeds in a similar manner as Yahoo, Google and Mapquest, it also goes much deeper.

From Search Engine Land:

In addition to real-time traffic data, the service offers traffic predictions across highways and improved information on secondary routes and surface streets. Horvitz said that this predictive modeling has proven to be very accurate in Microsoft’s ongoing development and refinement of the program. Based on artificial intelligence, as well as dynamic traffic monitoring, ClearFlow appears to be quite a bit more sophisticated that competing systems.

This could easily become the best traffic data on your PC.  Of course, therein lies the problem — it’s chained to my PC.  It’s very useful to get traffic data when I’m at my desk, but it’s brilliant to be able to get it while I’m on the road.

Here’s what needs happen next:

  • Microsoft releases a version of Live Maps Mobile, with similar features to Google Maps Mobile.
  • One of them steps up and includes turn-by-turn GPS into their mobile software.  GMM is so close to being the killer mobile app.  I can get turn-by-turn directions.  It can see/follow my GPS.  It just won’t tell me how far until my next turn!  I have very high hopes for the next version of GMM, but it’s been very quiet on that front lately.  A push from Microsoft would be a great thing for us consumers.

Trulia integrates Google Maps StreetView

The real estate info site Trulia has just added support for Google Maps StreetView, according to the Google LatLong blog.

This is an excellent use of the StreetView technology.  I’ve found that when looking at houses online, you want all the photos you can possibly get. This gives you a great way to see the house, as well as cruise the neighborhood a little bit to get a feel for it.

Of course, this wouldn’t help me if I was in the market for a new home, since StreetView still hasn’t made it to Atlanta yet.  At least we can hope it gets here soon.

I wonder if Zillow will add StreetView imagery next?

Google Transit now in Chicago

The Google LatLong blog announced today that Google has partnered with the Chicago Transit Authority to bring Google Transit to the windy city. This will include data from 8 rail lines and 154 bus routes.

Check it out at or you can watch the video that Google produced:

3Dconnexion releases SpaceNavigator for Notebooks

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the SpaceNavigator. As Stefan Geens says, there is simply no better way to navigate Google Earth. Today, 3Dconnexion has released a portable version of the SpaceNavigator, at about half the size and twice the cost ($129 vs. $59). Is it worth it?

My initial thought was that the lower weight could be a problem. I wouldn’t mind if the current one was a bit heavier (and it’s already pretty heavy). PC Magazine listed that as their primary gripe about the new model, though they seem to like it pretty well overall.

More info can be found in their press release, on their site or at the Google Earth Blog. If I get my hands on one, I’ll be sure to post an in-depth review.

The New York Times in Google Earth

Google Earth has just added a new layer into the “Geographic Web” folder for the New York Times. This layer updates automatically every 15 minutes and shows news stories on the map.

It’s not an overly exciting addition, but it adds one more bit of great info. Combine this with the Panoramio layer, the YouTube layer, the weather/traffic layers, and any other custom layers that you have, and suddenly you can get quite a lot of information about any particular area.

When I first turned on this layer, I noticed a placemark up near Traverse City, Michigan, so I went to check it out. The placemark is actually in Lake Michigan near South Manitou Island. The problem is that the story is about Bay City, Michigan, hundreds of miles away on the other side of the state. Oops!

It appears to have just been a simple error and not a major bug, as the other stories I checked seem to be placed correctly.

This certainly won’t be a major source of news for me, but it’ll be a fun little addition to have when I’m using Google Earth.

EarthBrowser 3 in beta

Version 3 of EarthBrowser is now in beta, and it’s apparently looking pretty good.  I don’t have a copy of the beta yet, but there’s more information available on both Bull’s Rambles and on Digital Geography.

It runs on Adobe Air, and could turn into a decent competitor to Google Earth and Virtual Earth.  Once I get a copy of the beta (or the public version, whenever it comes out), I’ll post a more comprehensive review.