August Geographic Web Layer Update

New Geographic Web Layer in Google EarthI’m back from a four day trip with practically no Internet access (more details about the trip coming). I have some catching up to do.
On August 7, I mentioned the discovery of the new Geographic Web layer updates for Google Earth. I think the Geographic Web layer has some fantastic data (millions of geotagged photos, Wikipedia articles all over the planet, and more), and the new update enhances that data in quality and quantity in many ways. However, I made some comments on the change in design involving redundancy, and the new colors, shapes, and sizes. Rich Treves also comments on his Google Earth Design blog about the new changes. And he largely agrees with my thoughts, and even suggests some other design alternatives that would have kept the look more consistent to what people have grown used to with the previous design of the icons.
Google finally announced the update on August 12th and explains some of their reasoning. One thing I didn’t realize is that the new Places sub-layer also includes data from the Google Earth Community as well. Not only that, but the Wikipedia layer also checks your local computer language and will show you Wikipedia entries in your language if you are one of the supported 18 languages. I like the idea of trying to integrate the different sources of information. However, if you turn on too many layers in Google Earth at the same time you can get lots of semi-duplicated information. That could be ok. But, I really hope Google puts a lot of attention into the UI for the layers into their next update of Google Earth. There’s great information in the layers, but I think it can be so confusing that many people don’t realize the wealth of information available. And, Google is often modifying the existing layers organizationally and from a design perspective – including the most popular ones – and this causes confusion.
One last thing, I don’t think I mentioned yet – but, noticed last week – that Google added a Summer Games 2008 layer (which is really just a placemark to get you to turn on the layer) under the Places layer folder.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.


  1. andrej avgustin says:

    recentry, google earth has changed appearance of clickable on-screen icons for geotagged photos. i’m talking about those pale blue rectangulars you can click to see image(s)/photo(s) belonging to that particular place. they used to be blue dots (camera icons in close zoom), very easy to spot and distinguishable from the background. but they have changed them into these pale grayish blue rectangulars which are really poorly visible on urban or desert landscape backgrounds. at least they could have used darker shade of blue. the same, and even more so, goes for wikipedia icons.
    i hope somebody from google earth reads this and gives it a thought.

  2. I think something that deserves highlighting is what a difficult job Google have to do here, they have to design icons that are
    – consistent across gMaps and gEarth
    – stand out on all backgrounds
    – stand out from each other
    – don’t look cluttered when viewed with a variety of different layers turned on
    A difficult job juggling competing needs.

  3. Elizabeth Gross says:

    I wonder how to use coordinates to find a spot in google earth? Scientific American Magazine gives coordinates for Lake Cheka in Siberia, but my version of Google Earth won’t search on the coordinate string. Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

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