Lots of people have been speculating on what Google’s business model is by giving away a free version of Google Earth. Stefan Geens at OgleEarth.com has posted some interesting observations about this today at his site. One of his key points being the upselling strategy Google is already doing offering Plus and Pro versions. I agree that Google is probably already getting a significant revenue stream from this.
I believe Google will make many of its advertising customers happy by providing access to location based information. For example, right now simple searches show me all the Best Buy locations or all the Holiday Inn Expresses. This works in Google Maps or Google Earth. And it is a fairly simple process to take these locations and download them into your GPS. I also believe Google has the opportunity to sell customized data to be delivered in their default layers and searches (just like with the main Google Search, more prominent placement in the search result is an advertising opportunity).
But, what interests me as an entrepreneur is the enormous potential for business opportunities related to Google Earth. There are already some businesses forming around the Google Earth application. Some are focusing on providing online resources to find unique places in the Google Earth data – for example: gearthhacks.com has an extensive online gallery of GoogleEarthPlaces. They are getting thousands of visits per day to their site. So far, their primary source of revenue is advertising space on their pages.
Others are offering services to sell to businesses to provide Google Earth reference data to help customers find their products and services. A real estate broker is offering information on homes through a large database through the Google Earth interface.
Another company, called GlobeAssistant.com, is offering services to help businesses in the travel industry, real estate, and news services to use Google Earth to enhance their businesses. For example, they are selling a service to take recent news stories and present the location of the story through an RSS feed in Google Earth format.
I recently wrote about a software product someone is developing specifically for use with Google Earth called EarthPlot.
News organizations can use Google Earth to quickly show its readers or viewers geographic references related to their stories. This has already been done numerous times. And I expect it will become more common as these organizations learn more about Google Earth. I expect Google will have special pricing and special versions of the tool for these customers as well.
Travel is a very interesting area which would allow businesses (say travel agents) to provide special presentations on tours, hotel locations, restaurants, etc. for prospective travellers with Google Earth as the presentation vehicle. They could also use it as a research tool to quickly find information customers are interested in finding.
Sports is another area with enormous potential. I used Google Earth to learn more about the Tour de France routes, and the location of the riders in just a few minutes than I had ever learned in the past. I watched a Paraglider race through the Swiss Alps using Google Earth. Using it to watch long-distance sailboat races is another thing I expect to see any day.
Google Earth has a very open interface for allowing outside data resources to be incorporated both statically and dynamically within it. There are many applications people haven’t even thought of which will result in business opportunities. I forsee applications for computer games, flight simulation, custom weather data, sports, travel, oil exploration, TV shows, and much more.
The other thing about Google Earth is that it is free and supported by a very high-profile company like Google. The type of market awareness they will generate when they release Google Earth more publicly will guarantee a high number of people who use the application. This will translate into market opportunities for many kinds of businesses. Based on our experience with this phenomena starting with Mosaic and Netscape, I’m confident great things are in store for Google Earth and innovators who ride the wave.