Tuesday, April 18, 2017

New Google Earth: Thoughts for educators

So the new Google Earth is out.  Frank is covering it in detail but I thought I'd do a quick post about what it means for educators.  For clarity Google Earth the program I refer to as 'GE classic' and the new version as 'GE Web'.

Why the web: I'm guessing there are several reasons for this move:
- You can use GE web on Chromebooks, key for educators in the Google ecosystem
- Enables integration with G drive so your maps will be on the web
- All sorts of other reasons for which you should Google 'advantages of the cloud'

Usability:  In making the leap from GE classic to web Google have had a long hard think about their usability of GE and I think they've come up with good solutions to old problems that were in classic.  For example:
- Content is now mainly in a tile based graphic 'Voyager' section which is sumptuous and intuitive.
- Other base map type layers, that used to be in the places column, are now much more hidden away in 'map style' (in the three lined section, top left of screen) which presents you with three main options about which layers to have showing in your base map.  You can choose more options by choosing 'custom' at the bottom.

Both these interface elements are cleverly designed to direct people to the cool content they're most likely to use (Voyager) and little used layers that used to just confuse users are hidden away (Map Style > custom).  The tile based Voyager is quick to access and easy to understand.

The GE web navigation tool (bottom right of screen) is a lot better than the classic version, its more intuitive and I especially liked the ability to see the main screen view projected onto the mini globe (as a red border) as you navigate around.

Content:  Google has gone all out with this tool to link their great content (primarily youtube and streetview) to place (the main screen).   You can create and import your old KML but Google is making it quite clear that they think that this content/place link is the main reason for using Google Earth and map creation is less important.  It's interesting to compare this approach to Esri's approach with ArcGIS Online, IMHO they have gone the other way, tools for creating your own map are the priority and curating content for users is secondary.  This is an important fact to bear in mind when using GE web in the classroom, its probably good as a tool at the top of a lesson to showcase some content but maybe you'll want students to switch to Esri or GE classic at the back end of the lesson when they create maps?

Tours?:  I have been convinced for ages that student created tours are a great tool to teach simple GIS to students.  Google Earth Tour Builder has been lagging behind Esri Story maps for a while now IMHO.  I would expect to see GETB brought into GE web at some point in the future, again, Google don't see this as a priority as it isn't in this release.

Conclusion:  As Frank points out, to get GE web operating at a similar frame rate (how smoothly it works) as GE classic is a huge job, this will have occupied most of the developers time in producing GE web.  As a result, and in common with all software making the jump from program to cloud, functionality is lost, and generally comes back with time.   However, Google have invested time in sorting out some of the usability issues with GE classic and trying to link their great content to place.  I think they've done a good job.  In educational terms they're leading ArcGIS online in terms of usability and wow factor (from the content), however, they're lagging in terms of creation and measurement tools which are still only in GE classic.