Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wednesday 14/9/2005Those industrious chaps on The Register have produced an engaging story on the back of various governments getting miffed at Google Earth. The global mapping software is only too happy to provide images of military installations to anyone who can type in the coordinates, which enrages those responsible for Top Secret Airbases and similar.

Wednesday 14/9/2005

Those industrious chaps on The Register have produced an engaging story on the back of various governments getting miffed at Google Earth. The global mapping software is only too happy to provide images of military installations to anyone who can type in the coordinates, which enrages those responsible for Top Secret Airbases and similar. The rest of us love it, of course, and the pleasure of safely snooping on South Korea's tasty collection of American hardware is only intensified by the knowledge that it really, really annoys people in uniform.

I know it's aiding the enemy, but I can't resist dropping a link to the story on Pprune, the flyboys' bulletin board — more specifically, the Military Aircrew section, where they can be a bit arsey towards civilians (or "bloody spotters" as we are sometimes called). Although that's as nothing compared to the caustic banter unladled on a junior American military type who complains that he can't get the Brits to salute him: fans of the acerbic will find strong meat there.

But Biggles looks kindly upon my link, and the chaps are soon merrily swapping lats and longs. This is entertaining enough, but highlights one basic flaw with Google Earth and other geographic systems: there is no standard way to exchange this information. There are plenty of proprietary formats, some of which have achieved near-standard status among GPS manufacturers, but none is suitable for handling as ordinary text on Web sites, in emails and so on. Google Earth itself does have an XML-based link format, but it can't easily be embedded in a cut-and-pasteable way on the page.

As cut and paste remains a surprisingly common way of moving information about, this is a significant lack. Google could do worse than installing explicit support for some simple tag-based system, and other places such as Flickr that encourage geographic information exchange could be instrumental in ensuring its success. It's something we'll need more and more of very soon, and not just for finding new ways to annoy the military.

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