Google Earth!

by Eszter Hargittai on June 28, 2005

If you thought Google Maps and the corresponding satellite images were cool then you’ll be hard-pressed to find a word to describe the experience of using Google Earth. Before you get too excited, do check to see if your computer meets the current requirements.

I don’t think you have to be a geography geek like me (I did take four years of high school geography after all) to appreciate this service. It’s amazing. You can zoom in more than on GMaps, you can tilt the image, you can get driving directions superimposed on the satellite images, you can get road names added, dining options included and much more.

In line with this article in today’s NYTimes, neither the directions nor some of the locations of things are always correct, but they’re close. Go play.




Keven Lofty 06.28.05 at 12:06 pm

That is quite frankly the coolest thing ever.


Jayanne 06.28.05 at 12:17 pm

Very nice. I think I’ll download it! Thanks for the alert.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 06.28.05 at 12:18 pm

I can see I’m going to get ABSOLUTELY NOTHING DONE for the next 10000000 hours. Thanks!


Eszter 06.28.05 at 12:37 pm

Yeah, tell me about it. This is a really bad day for me to have discovered this with about a million _immediate_ things on my to-do list. If that wasn’t the case I would’ve blogged it much more extensively with pictures attached.. but I had to draw some limits.


David Sucher 06.28.05 at 1:11 pm

It’s enough to make me think seriously about buying a Windows machine.


btw 06.28.05 at 1:33 pm

This is actually the new version of Keyhole rebranded as Google Earth.

Here’s a cache of the Keyhole website from before Google bought them:


Brian 06.28.05 at 1:38 pm

This is fun. It could be because I’m using it incorrectly, but it seems strange what is and isn’t available (to me) in hi-res. They have very high resolution images of the west of the city of Melbourne (west of roughly Swanston St), and only a very low-res image to the east. Maybe that’s just what was available that day through the cloud cover.


John Emerson 06.28.05 at 2:38 pm

I entered my home address and it zoomed in close enough to count the cars in the parking lot (not real time, though, I checked).

Then I entered my mother’s address and it zoomed out, flew cross-country (showing the terrain underneath), and zoomed down to her address. Resolution was worse there, probably because they prioritize cities, and they guessed wrong by 200 feet as to the exact location of the house because they didn’t know the numbering system. But wow!

I also know my mom’s location down to hundredths of a geographical second.


Jeremy Osner 06.28.05 at 2:58 pm

Wowie zowie! What a lovely user interface that is! (To my initial impression anyways.) And yes indeed, a cool bit of software. Thanks for the recommendation. And, do you mean to tell me your high school offered 4 distinct years of geography? As compared to my own which offered geography as a couple of week unit inside our sophomore year world history class?? Aargh, some people have all the luck…


Jeremy Osner 06.28.05 at 3:01 pm

And, and, look what happens, when you are looking at one address and you enter a different address into the location box! Look!


John Emerson 06.28.05 at 3:25 pm

My apartment is .1″ W of my front step.


Eszter 06.28.05 at 4:22 pm

Jeremy, I went to high school in Hungary (well, for the most part) where two years of geography are a requirement and then I had the option of two additional elective years, which I took. For those wondering what you can cover for four years, geography here is meant in broad terms so we covered topics from “how is aluminum made?” (NOT my preferred topic) to what kinds of plants grow in the tundra to what is the fourth biggest island on Earth, etc. My teacher had the foresight to make us learn all the capitals of the former Soviet republics.. smart since they then turned into separate countries and we knew (theoretically:) all their capitals.

Regarding Google Earth, curiously I found the house I grew up in in Budapest (down to the swimming pool in the neighbor’s back yard), but cannot see anything in Geneva.:( I guess Budapest is a much larger city and they probably have those in more detail.


John Emerson 06.28.05 at 4:47 pm

I think that geography should be a primary social science on a par with sociology and economics. Just my opinion. So much stuff makes more sense when the geographical context is thoroughly understood.


Jeremy Osner 06.28.05 at 7:06 pm

I don’t think it’s necessarily just size; Beijing eg is available in much greater detail than Shanghai.


Silent E 06.28.05 at 9:16 pm

This is SO cool… especially when you exagerate the vertical elevations by 2x or 3x – try “flying” over the Rockies or Alps.

I just spent an hour re-living a tour of Italy – walking Rome and Venice, zooming around to spot the seven hills, etc… The Acropolis in Athens is easy to spot, but sadly the resolution on old Istanbul is very poor – much like Shanghai. Skimming the Bosporus at 1500ft is quite interesting, even if the bridges are a little flat.

The Google Earth webpage said the pix were all within 3 years, but I suspect they had to get some very wide-angle shots for total coverage.


Aaron 06.28.05 at 11:06 pm

Thanks, CT! I just anticipated a huge decline in my marginal productivity.

Notice how the White House and Capitol are blurred?

Understandable. Just an observation.


sean 06.29.05 at 3:27 am

I like setting the distance to 30,000 ft and pan, pretending to fly in an airliner. Is there something wrong with me?


Kenny Easwaran 06.29.05 at 3:59 am

I looked at this quite a bit when it was Keyhole (one of my friends pointed out you could get a free sample), so I’m safe from productivity loss at the moment. Though maybe in light of my upcoming travel in Australia, I may spend some more time looking there.

But at Keyhole, they mentioned that some of the geographic distribution of detailed pictures was a result of various contracts they had had. So a CNN contract required them to get high-res photos of all of Iraq. Having spent a semester in Budapest a few years ago, I checked there, and noticed that Budapest had the highest resolution of all of Europe (except maybe London or something?) And I noticed that New Jersey and Massachusetts had much higher resolution than any other complete states.


strewelpeter 06.29.05 at 7:35 am

Bang goes my 8Gb download.
All work in our multinational office has stopped for the last couple of hours.

the first comment says it all


John Emerson 06.29.05 at 11:13 am

It’s not possible to search the Arc de Triomphe or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Statue of Liberty.

When you tilt you just get a more horizontal view of a one-dimensional picture, you don’t get any relief.


Brian 06.29.05 at 2:22 pm


The tilt isn’t perfect, but in some cases they’ve clearly tried to add depth. I was looking at pictures of Canberra, and on tilt view the small hills to the north of the city (Black Mountain and Mount Ainslie) stand out quite dramatically. I suspect that is something that only works in detailed shots of big cities though.


dglp 06.29.05 at 4:48 pm

Google Earth downloads temporarily delayed

Thanks for your interest in Google Earth, but we’re sorry we can’t offer you a download right now.



jacob 06.29.05 at 10:17 pm

I’ve been having a good time seeing what has really hi-res pictures and what doesn’t. For instance, Cambridge Mass has the highest I’ve found–so much so that it’s clear and crisp down to 80 or so feet above the ground–and that pretty much follows the Cambridge city line (for instance, neighboring Somerville isn’t nearly as crisp). Can anyone else find anything comperable to Cambridge?


jet 06.30.05 at 8:07 am

Has anyone noticed structures that look like giant solar panels (but many miles wide), but ovbiously aren’t? I’m wondering why they are there and what they are covering up. I’ve seen them in Moscow, Kenya, Bangladesh and other places. A friend says the one I found in bangladesh is blocking out a oil fired power plant.


jcartledge 06.30.05 at 8:27 pm

My hometown is _completely_ obscured by cloud. Gah. Other than that, very cool, yes etc.


llghy 07.01.05 at 1:17 am

It is a pity that it was closed when I visit just now.


Billy 07.01.05 at 1:49 am

can anyone send me a live link to download google earth, it seems that the official one is down quite some time.

mail me at


Mickey 07.01.05 at 10:31 pm

Jacob – You were right about Cambridge…it looks amazing! I haven’t seen any others that look nearly that good, but I’ll be sure to post if I do.


Cody 07.02.05 at 4:28 pm

Any one have a non official download, if you do itd be great of you to send it to me.

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