Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Google Earth 5.0: Tour functionality

I woke up yesterday morning to find the world had changed. London was covered by 10cm of snow, the heaviest snowfall here in 18 years. I woke up this morning to find the Virtual World had changed, Google Earth 5 has arrived with Mars, Oceans and historical data available. Wow.

Tour Backstory: Frank and Stefan have been posting prolifically (1, 2) about Google Earth 5, so I won't do a general round up. Instead, I'm going to explain why the tour functionality is my favorite of the new functions and why it is so important. Watch this video if you don't know what its about:

I hear on the grapevine that this has been some Googler's project for a couple of years now, if this is true s/he deserves a great cheer: IMHO this is the most important change to Google Earth since the timeline came out.

Tour as Introduction: In Google Earth as in any communication technique introductions are vital. You need to summarize quickly what they user can get from using your content and explain how you have structured it for them, I've written about this in detail as part of my tutorials including the characteristics of video introductions (take time to produce, big download for the user but visually captivating) vs text introductions (quick to produce, small download for user but less captivating). Well now we have a third option, the new tour functionality is visually captivating as it is a kind of movie clip, its easy to produce and its a small download (essentially a kml file).

Tour as Presentation: If you are preparing a talk in which place is the most important consideration, instead of using PowerPoint (informed critism about its failings) you can now create a tour in Google Earth instead. The slide transitions will be converted to a much more meaningful 'FlyTo' transition between places. I have given a lot of presentations (usually as part of a larger presentation done with PowerPoint) using Google Earth recently and I was forever double clicking placemarks to take my audience to a new place - the old tour functionality wasn't worth using IMHO. Now I can pre-record my talk tour with smart controls to fast forward, pause, rewind as I wish. I can also automatically rotate the view from one point without having to fiddle with controls whilst in mid speech. Wonderful! And I'll get my students to do it as assignments too.

Tour as Teaching Tool: I can now produce a file that flies students around Google Earth turning on and off placemarks to make teaching points and giving them audio commentary (why audio is so good) at the same time. I can also put a pause in the presentation having told them to go and do something and they have to press the tour 'play' to continue with the tour. That's a very nice way of teaching geography when I'm not there at the front of the class to show them.

Very. Very. Good. Now excuse me while I try and clear the snow from my car...

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