Friday, October 25, 2013

Google Earth Tour Builder Review

Previously I couldn't get GETB working*, I've worked out a work around* so now I have so a fuller review for you:

The tool is at

Firstly, a little shout for joy is in order:  YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!  It looks good.

Some History:  A week before I saw it I was trying to get a funding bid accepted to build pretty much what this is, and I've been banging on about the need for it for years.  Other's have had a go at this (see previous post) but nothing has come close to filling the need IMHO so well done whoever '' is.

Educational Uses:  I get students to produce Google Earth tours on two courses, I think as an assignment it really works, I've showcased an example of a student's work previously and I think its such a neat teaching tool that I gathered some thoughts from colleagues on the idea (under 'Space stories') at a conference this summer.

What GETB does:  Previously you could record a Google Earth tour in Google Earth but if you wanted to edit it, you had to get into the KML code.  Also, fiddling around with lots of elements in the places column was tedious and you ran out of space quickly.  With this tool you can define a series of locations and then upload images, compose text or link to videos related to each location.  You do it 'in the cloud' as your tour is saved in a location related to your Google account so to edit, you must be online but you have the advantage that you can access your tours from any online machine.

Once you've created a tour, you can edit the sequence of location by simple drag and drop.  The interface is very clean (inheriting look and style from Google's standard interface design) and its very intuitive.

Nice Touches:  

  • Rocket path: When flying from low location to a distant far location the path loops high following the rocket path rather than staying close to the ground surface (crow path).  More detail under best practice 13 here.  Nice to think someone reads this blog :)  
  • Hidden Titles:  I also liked the way the control column hides the location's title unless rolled over with the mouse.  
  • Streetview:  drop a location in streetview and the tour will use streetview when played.  
  • Slide Metaphor:  Google Earth tours in Google Earth play via a VCR controller.  GETB uses a slide metaphor which is easier to understand and navigate when playing a tour IMHO.  It also makes editing easier.
  • Import KML:  This feature allows more advanced features to be associated with a location (e.g. polygon annotation) but the complexity that goes with this is hidden from most users.  One of the problems with the earlier attempt at a tour editor Google Earth Studio was that the complexity was visible to all and was overwhelming for users who just wanted to do something simple.

Missing Features:

  • Audio: With so much going on visually in a tour, its best to deliver the narration via audio, which you can do with Google Earth tours.  More details.  I'd suggest this is an important feature to add.
  • Overlays:  A powerful feature of tours is to be able to incorporate ground overlays in the main screen.  At the moment you can add polygons and lines by importing KML but it won't import KMZ's which would allow overlay imports.  E.g. a screenshot of OpenStreetMap which would be far less visually complex as a base map than the standard satellite view of Google Earth.
  • Tutorials and support?  It's nice and straightforward but help files would really open up its use to a wider audience and GETB is definitely suitable for non-techies.  

Overall, brilliant.  I will be using with my students ASAP

*doesn't work: chrome in Lion.  On Snow leopard with chrome it works

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Google Earth Tour Builder: Quick thoughts

I get students to build Google Earth tours for classes (see spatial stories in this post), my site Google Earth for Teachers describes how to create them using Google Earth.  However, the editing tools are basic to say the least.  People have built tools for making tours before (Snoovel, Google Earth Studio) but they've both sunk without trace.  So I was excited to find out someone else has had a go:  Google Earth Tour Builder.

I had a go at creating a tour.  It seems to be following the design of a 'stepper' as in, more like a PowerPoint presentation with slides and clicks to move on than a Movie clip so the flow through the tour is structured like ArcGIS explorer (not sure if that still exists either...).  However, beyond that, I can't really explore it.  My problems:
- No help files, screencasts, tutorials to tell me how to work it
- When I create a new place I'm told to 'drop a draggable placemark to specify a location' but I can't find anything to drag. (on OS, tried in FF and Chrome).

If I can get it to work I'll review it further.