Over at Google Earth Blog Frank Taylor nails an issue I've noticed too: support for Google Earth and development of the product seems to have dropped off Google's todo list. Frank interprets this as being a bad sign for the future of Google Earth and I think he's right. Its been clear for a long while that the client (Google Earth the program as compared to Google Earth in the browser) had a limited shelf life, it simply makes more sense to have things in the cloud for Google. What is worrying is more that when the transition comes educators are going to lose out because important functionality may not be maintained in the brave new 'cloud maps' world.
Stuff educators would miss: Firstly, and possibly most importantly, school teachers use and know Google Earth. They are pretty averse to change in my experience, mostly they're not over excited by the newest functionality available, GE does what they need it to and learning to get that done through a cloud mapping service is going to annoy them. If its considerably different from Google Earth I suspect people won't bother learning it or may even go elsewhere.
Save KML: Secondly, being able to whack 'earthquake Haiti KMZ' into Google and finding some useful resources to be able to mashup something for a lesson was endlessly useful. And while we're talking about KML, its a really useful language for the semi computer literate - you could bash some ugly spreadsheet concatenate functions together and build a simple model to make maps. Will KML make it through the 'cloudification'?
All under one roof: Finally, part of its strength lies in the range of functionalities available. Being able to bang an overlay map in, mix in some streetview visits, pull up a cross section and also explore all the great things in the Layers column in one software package is very powerful. I've just set our first years a locate a task about locating a hospital, they were straight in there going beyond my instructions exploring hospitals in the area concerned by pulling data in from the layers column. Will all that be maintained?
And: I'll have to get myself a new blog name of course.... :)