Thursday, November 3, 2011

Why Google owns SketchUp (or, The Russians Are Coming)

So I have my occasional differences with 'Cagey' James Fee but it's no big deal. He's a nice guy and his blog is kinda like the Village Voice for paleotards. Also it reminds me of those heady days five years ago when we called everything "spatial" because we thought it sounded cooler than "geo".

The other day he posted "It Still Blows My Mind That Google Owns Sketchup". Basically Cagey subscribes to what I call the tequila theory. This says that Ol’ Ed Parsons went out one night in Kingston, got completely slammed on tequila, came home, logged onto eBay and in a drunken stupor clicked 'Buy it Now' for some overhyped geo startup at well above market value. Admit it, we've all done it. (Juha Christensen is regretting it to this day. Heh heh.)

But although Cagey is a wise old sage, kinda like the Donald Knuth of geo (sorry "spatial"), he is way off the mark on this one. I mean:
Sounds pretty awesome, I know many people who as a hobby recreate the world around them in Google SketchUp. It also makes a huge 3D library available to the world for free.
Hey, what? People actually still believe this altruistic shit about Google?

So at OpenStreetMap we figured lesson one is get people to give you the data for free. Lesson two is you have to own the data. Ok, it took us five years to work that second one out which is why we're changing the license.

G learned both of these pretty quick. So when people "recreate the world around them in Google SketchUp", well, whaddyaknow, that's more free data for Google.

The result? In two years' time Google will have the only 3D map of the world and it will cost them precisely $0 in licensing fees. Ok, much of it will have been done in rudimentary form by analyzing StreetView footage and the sensing from the super secret Google imaging satellites which can detect rooftops to a resolution of 50cm and know what your cat does all day. That bit will look blocky and shit, yes. But G already knows 'good enough' works for maps, because they unleashed their barely-better-than-TIGER geodata on the States and basically No One At All Cares except for Cagey and Mike Dobson and the poor guys who drove into a river and died because Google claimed there was still a bridge there.

But - the gosh-wow brigade will be swooning over the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Houses of Parliament in centimeter-perfect detail, all drawn on SketchUp by some kid with Aspergers who unwittingly has licensed it all to G. (Ok, so OSM leads Google here because our kids with Aspergers are German kids with Aspergers but still.)

You think I'm kidding? Think phones. Nav apps sell phones and they will all be immersive 3D in two years' time, like Google Goggles on LSD (Steve Jobs would have been proud). Apple knows that, that's why they bought C3. We at Microsoft know that, that's why we're doing ReadWriteWorld. Obviously both of us are handicapped by not being evil but Google has no such disadvantage.

So you might ask what OpenStreetMap is doing in this new Space Race.

I can't say too much but if phase one was Germans... phase two involves Russians. Russian OSMers all think they're cats, map in five dimensions and write renderers so advanced that the major browsers are having to implement bug fixes to keep up. I shit you not. Be very, very frightened.