Viewing the world from another perspective

Sam Hartle

A month ago, I made the mistake of downloading Google Earth. The program, in its PC version, has been around for a while, but it took time to deliver a Mac version, which debuted in January.

It was worth the wait.

For those uninitiated, Google Earth combines all the satellite images that have ever been taken of the Earth and displays them in an easy to navigate window. While this is undoubtedly spooky to some, the allure of the program is hard to ignore for others.

Take for example, the fact that I’ve never been outside of the United States. With Google Earth, I now know what the Great Pyramids in Egypt look like. I can empathize with the motorists stuck in a traffic jam around the Arc de Triumph in Paris. I’m amazed at the life of luxury lived by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussien in his numerous palaces. I even agree with President Bush that we need to do something about the weapons situation in North Korea.

To fully appreciate the applicability of Google Earth, one has to revert back to the days when Google was just becoming a common name in Internet search. Google attracted all types of Web users with quick, clean and relevant search results. The search program seemed to have an uncanny sense of exactly what one was trying to search and delivered the results consistently.

Those were the good ol’ days of 2001.

The modern day popularity of Google, and all its various ancillary products, is that the company serves as a clearinghouse of the entire world’s content. To that end, Google has transformed itself into a media company, much in the same mold of Westinghouse (which owns CBS, Viacom and a number of other media companies) – even the business model of Google, which relies almost entirely on revenue generated from advertising, is the same as traditional media companies.

But if Google is a media company, it exposes the limitations of the old media giants. Newspapers, network and cable television channels and radio stations all force the user to consume their media on their time schedule.

A great example of this limitation bears witness in the traffic update feature of any large media market morning news program. Those watching the program have to wait until the program is good and ready to turn it over to a traffic update. The most frequent traffic updates I’ve seen on a news program occur once every 10 minutes.

Google Earth has an alternative.

Open up your version of Google Earth and zoom into your city of choice. Identify your route of travel, choose a traffic camera along that route and click on the link. Your Web browser will open up and real-time video of the traffic situation you’ll have to deal with during your commute is displayed. Total time elapsed: 1 minute and 30 seconds.

Even though your morning traffic information fix can now be satisfied through Google Earth, I’d still recommend checking in with Al Roker for the weather forecast – and for a glimpse of all the crazies standing outside the NBC studios in New York in the dead of winter.

I’ll be there in New York, with those crazies, in spirit. But I’ll also be there literally, watching from above, from the comfort of my own apartment a thousand miles away.