I wrote about the new Google Maps service about six weeks ago. You can read that article here. Now Google has added something even more spectacular: satellite photographs. To be sure, other companies have offered satellite photos before but the Google pictures are the best quality that I have seen on a consumer-oriented service. These things also have significant genealogy potential as well.
Google's new high-resolution satellite images enable you to zoom in on homes and businesses using satellite images, an advance that may raise privacy concerns. The new service appeared on Google on Monday and is part of the package acquired when the company bought digital mapmaker Keyhole Corp. for an undisclosed amount nearly six months ago. Keyhole was previously available through Google but at a price of $29.95 a month. The new service added this week is free.
When going to http://maps.google.com, you still see the same menus as described in my earlier article. Next, enter an address or a longitude and latitude or any of several other options, such as the phrase "pizza" followed by your ZIP code. Google then displays a map of whatever you asked for. If you look closely, you will note a new link in the upper right corner that did not exist before Monday. It says "Satellite." Click on that you will be rewarded with a satellite view of the same area as the map you were looking at.
I first entered my home address and took a look at the map of my neighborhood. Then I clicked on "Satellite" and was looking at a picture of the same neighborhood. The local golf course really shows up well.
I could also see the house where I live. Then I started zooming in, using the menus on the left. At maximum resolution, I was looking not only at the roof of my home as well as the roofs of the immediate neighbors. I could also determine the irregular shapes of my front yard, back yard and the driveway. The hedge along the edge of the property was very obvious as was one particular rhododendron bush. You have to admit that these satellite photos are rather good when you can see individual rhododendron bushes! There was a speck in the driveway that may or may not have been my tan-colored pickup truck. I did not see any autos on the roads in my neighborhood but when looking at the office building of the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, it was easy to pick out individual cars and trucks parked along Newbury Street!
Next, the display can be moved to the north, south, east or west. When scrolling, the screen does not repaint. Instead, it scrolls smoothly. It is almost like flying over the neighborhood.
These photos have some serious genealogy uses. Do you have the address of great-grandfather's farm? You can now "visit" the property even though it may be thousands of miles away. Want to find the cemetery where your ancestor is buried? No problem. I was able to look at a cemetery near my house and even see some individual tombstones as "white flecks" in the photo. OK, so I guess we have to wait a few more years before we have the technology to read the inscriptions!
These photos do not cover all the U.S., however. Google's free satellite maps initially will be limited to North America, with images covering roughly half the United States. Rural areas especially have not yet been added to Google's images. When looking for my great-grandfather's farm I found that the satellite images of Bangor, Maine were not as high resolution as some other areas. I could see satellite photos of the area but was not able to zoom in as far for a "close up" view.
These satellite maps and images probably will unnerve some people, even as the technology impresses others. That's because the Keyhole technology is designed to provide close-up perspective of specific addresses. Keyhole's previous government ties also have raised anxieties.
Founded in 2001, Keyhole raised some money in 2003 from In-Q-Tel, a venture capital firm backed by the Central Intelligence Agency. Leading up to the Google sale, Keyhole's roughly 10,000 customers included a cross-section of government agencies.
Google believes most people will like the convenience of generating a satellite image with a few clicks of a computer mouse. The company envisions people using the service as a way to scout a hotel's proximity to the beach for a possible vacation or size up the neighborhood where an apartment is for rent. However, I bet the first thing that you look at will be your own neighborhood.
To try the satellite photos yourself, go to http://maps.google.com.