This is a post I have been reluctant to write. I started this blog 12 years ago to bring news and share enthusiasm about one of the best software applications, and datasets, I have ever seen. Still to this day, I am amazed when I use Google Earth and the incredible wealth of data that Google has shared with everyone for free. I am going to start this post with a short statement and explain what our readers should expect. In a more lengthy background dialogue below, I try to tactfully describe what has lead me to this action. This decision was reached after a few months of consideration.
I have decided, after a dozen years of publishing this blog, it is time for me to stop. As a fan, writer, and publisher, I really care about the Google Earth product, and our readers. But as a person, I need to focus my life on other things. It’s possible, if Google produces something really notable, I will write another post or two about amazing things of Google Earth. But, I will not resume daily posts. I plan to continue running the GEB server because many of the thousands of posts are found useful by Google Earth’s millions of world-wide users.
I will be directing readers to communicate with Google’s online help forums to try and obtain answers to questions. For a while, I will try and address some of the many comments and questions we get on the blog. But, those will stop soon. I will continue to respond to long-time GEB readers and friends by E-mail for a while as well.
I want to give special thanks to Mickey Mellen who took over writing this blog from 2009 when I left to sail around the world, and to Timothy Whitehead who took over in late-2014 when Mickey had to focus on other business. They both worked hard to maintain the Google Earth Blog purpose and style, and I greatly appreciate their efforts. We hope the readers of this blog enjoyed what we produced, and the help we gave in E-mails and comments, as much as we enjoyed doing them.
It’s been an amazing 12 years. I hope Google Earth, or superior successors, will continue for a long time to come.
A lot has changed at Google in the 12 years this blog has been documenting Google Earth’s evolution. Many of those changes were good – the Google Maps and Earth division staff grew significantly, and new features like Panoramio photos, Street View, Google Earth Outreach, Google Mars, Moon, Ocean, and countless other features and layers were added to the product.
But, in recent years, Google Earth development languished. Staff was reduced, and during the last three years all of the top staff who were involved with its original creation have left (John Hanke left Google with Niantic – which created Ingress and Pokemon Go, Brian McClendon left to join Uber, and Michael Jones left to be involved with tech startups and investment groups). I enjoyed greatly working with these guys, and they were very supportive of Google Earth Blog and my efforts to document the enthusiasm of all things Google Earth. They were all peers of mine in the computer graphics and Internet development fields in the decades past. But, there were many concerns when they left.
I tested most versions of Google Earth over the 12 years, and gave many suggestions from both myself, and GEB readers. Google often listened and implemented many of the requests. Fortunately, a little over two years ago an effort to revive development efforts at Google for Google Earth was made, and a next generation version began development with a smaller staff.
Google as a corporation has changed, and, as often happens with publicly traded companies, their priorities with how they manage their products and relations with outside parties has changed. While they still cater to the big online and traditional news sources and pubications, their attention seems to have shifted away from standalone fan sites like GEB. Our blog is not the only fan site that has experienced this. Blogs like Google Maps Mania, for example, changed their focus and became just “Maps Mania” – a multi-product online mapping focused blog instead several years ago.
As Google eliminated most of the software developer hooks into Google Earth, most of the mapping developers have stopped, or greatly reduced, efforts related to Google Earth as a tool. The elimination early this year of support for the Google Earth plugin was the nail in the GE developer coffin – at least for now. The Google Earth Community forums, which once thrived with over a million members, has also dwindled in activity. It was the home of the biggest fans of Google Earth.
The new Chrome-based/and mobile app, version 9 of Google Earth, is the basis of the next generation future from Google. It was released in late April of this year. The new development team, headed by long-time Google Earth developer Sean Askay, has grand plans to implement many of the basic capabilities of the classic pre-version-9 Google Earth applications. As a first release, it shows great promise in terms of graphics performance and its ability to run well in the browser or on a mobile device. But, the web and mobile app version 9 only supports a subset of the Google Earth content, and is missing many of its better features. But, Google has committed to continuing support for the older version while they work on implementing more capabilities in the new generation. They have even recently added some nice tweaks to how the desktop graphics perform on version 7.3 of Google Earth. However, they demoted the better, desktop version, of GE to a link called “older versions” with the release of the first version 9 on the Google Earth official web home page.
In recent months, the new version 9 development team has presumably listened to feedback from GEB and its readers and either implemented, or indicated they will address, some of the requests and suggestions. But, responsiveness and feedback has mostly been slower and more cryptic compared to the past. Much feedback went without reply. In part, I think due to smaller staff, but also I think because Google has changed as a corporation and how it communicates publicly, and even privately, with testers. Their priorities with dealing with the public, and fans of their product, have changed. So much so, that the fun and joy of dealing with Google has disappeared. At least for me.
I realize all too well that many of the people who were die-hard fans of Google Earth 10 years ago, are no longer the fans of the product they once were. Many people have told me they can’t believe I have held on so long. As a long time entrepreneur, former CEO of multiple companies, captain of the seas and air, I am more persistent than most. Believe me, you have no idea. I have tried extremely hard to keep Google supporting Google Earth and its fans over the years.
In a rare occurrence in my life: I give up.
Maybe Google will one day again realize that their fans are important to the longevity of their products.
But, now that I’ve reached this decision, I want to turn my eyes to more optimistic pursuits for myself.
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.