Google Earth A to Z: Pretty Earth, Places, Panoramio and the Plug-in

Pretty Earth
Google Earth offers an amazing way to view our planet, but when you zoom in closely the surface is actually made up of various tiles from imagery taken on different dates (here’s how that works).
For years this created a patchwork effect when you viewed the earth from high altitude, but earlier this year Google unveiled “Pretty Earth”, which greatly improved the view of earth from above. The difference is amazing!

pretty earth

Places Layer
When Google Earth was first released, the “Places” layer had huge list of items under it to select sub-categories. In earth 2010, Google removed the sub-items and created the smart “Places” layer that we have today. As you zoom in, more and more places appear, and it choose the most important ones to highlight first.
After quite a bit of user outcry, they added most of the old sub-categories back into Google Earth for power users to access. They can be found under [More] –> [Place Categories].
Back in 2006, Google added the popular photo-sharing website Panoramio to their “Geographic Web” layer. Over the next few months, the increased exposure helped Panoramio grow from 80,000 to over 400,000 photos.
Google acquired Panoramio in 2007, and by early 2010 (when co-founder Eduardo Manchon left) they had more then 20 million photos in their database! You can explore the photos at or by enabling the [Photos] –> [Panoramio] layer in Google Earth.

Google Earth Plug-in
The Google Earth API was first released at Where 2.0 2008, and has allowed users to stretch Google Earth to do some amazing things. We’ve seen it used to show motorcycle routes, preview concert seating, assist after the Japanese earthquake, and it powers some awesome games such as Ships, “Drive the A-Team Van” and the GE Flight Simulator. You can see some other great uses of the API over on Paul van Dinther’s
What’s been your favorite use of the Google Earth plug-in so far?

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. The Panoramio layer is great, but only includes popular photos. This means that unusual locations are not covered by the layer. The solution to that is to download the full KML from Panoramio which is a network enabled link to the main database:
    This link is offered by Panoramio when you do a search and select the option of showing photos not selected for GEarth.

  2. Robert Tissell says:

    How did they clean up the Earth imagery mosaic to create the Pretty Earth? I’m seriously interested in how this was accomplished, because it solves a problem that bedevils anyone who works with satellite or aerial imagery that involves data from different dates etc. I regularly Google the subject, hoping to find a scholarly account of the the processing involved, but never find it.
    Anyone who knows, or has any clue, please respond!

  3. 22 August at 10:15 -7 UTC: The Google Earth to Panoramio interface is apparently goofed up… shows the wrong picture whe you click on a photo in GE

  4. @ Ray Wood – glad in a way to see the news that the GE Panaramio layer is “goofed up” as I experienced this a day after installing the all photos KML which I thought must have caused the problem, but apparently not.
    At the moment the the ‘popular’ photos can show the correct title but the wrong image, and the sea is full of misplaced images but with what appear to be the right spatial relationships to one another – and it looks like the misplacing is on a continental scale!

  5. Same here. Panoramio layer shows wrong photos. The all photos KML works ok.

  6. Hey Panoramio, GE: when are you going to fix the problem?

  7. Panoramio misplaced images issue now appears to be fixed – at least on a spot check.

  8. is panoramio down? I get dns errors

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