Google’ing all day

Spent the day with some of the London Google support guys on Thursday. It was laptops at the ready, a brief intro to Google and the facilities then straight into producing some code for the web. We were in the same hotel where the FOWA guys were holding their in depth workshops, so there were a few web people about. Not too many in the group though so we had some time to get help whenever we were going too slowly. Morning session was for newer users, afternoon for advanced and the guys seemed to pitch it at a good level for most people. Being techies they were keen to see the details of the php pages being put into operation.

The demos showed the usual fly around in Google Earth, spotting man made structures like the Giant Pink Rabbit. Then we had a look at the latest version of SketchUp. I didn’t realize there was an upgrade so I was pleasantly surprised. Not too much difference in the interface, but a bit more help on how to use tools. The original programmers spent time making it easy to use and that hasn’t changed with the new features. Linking to a 3D repository is easy, and sending your model into Google Earth is only a few clicks. Very easy. I was most impressed by the ease with which you can bring textures in from photos. Having spent time doing low poly modelling and knowing how fiddly it can be to get the texture lined up without stretching, SketchUp seemed like a dream. It was as easy as any other feature in the application. Just bring in a couple of exterior shots from a digital camera, adjust the picture perspective to match the building, select some faces and project it on. Easy as pie. Such a good feature. I couldn’t believe the demo really, so I tried it later at home (Yes, you really can try this at home – the new version is stil a free download!). It was just as easy. I had my house textured in no time. Now should I put it into Google Earth? London looks a bit bare with only one house appearing in 3D.

Links to a lot of the examples are in kml files (or kmz zipped versions), so we can produce these and email them around or post them as links to let people see the content. They can even contain stubs with a url in them, so when the user links to them they’ll get dynamically linked data. Used on the British Airways site to good effect, showing the latest prices using clouds over the destination city. I couldn’t find it when I went there, but it looked good. See this Google blog link for the details. Talking of flying, the fbo has a neat web site with Google maps showing all the planes heading into some of the US airports (all displayed 5 minutes after they were there)

We had a look at Personalised home page, which has the usual millions of games and news gadgets to spread around your Google search page. I tried this for a day, but had to switch it off in the end. It seemed to be taking all day to load the page. They mentioned the WHAT, Web Hypertext Application Taskgroup, which is looking into standards for gadgets. I must look into this a bit more after the netVibes announcement of a Universal Interface. Sounds good in theory, but if everyone has a different version….

We split up into teams to create some apps to put youTube videos onto a map. Each of the groups produced a differnet part, all in a few hours in the afternoon. Thought it went pretty well really, despite a few networking issues. We had to,

Write a PHP script to find videos using the youTube API, producing xml data
Use the Google maps interface to find the Geographic positions from the youTube codes
Then look through the XML using javascript to plot the markers onto a Google maps page
Final task was to embed a block of html to link to the actual video, into the tag on the map

We could then search for a term, plot all the videos on the map and then play each of them by clicking on the tag.

Very impressive sets of technology, made even better by the idea of linking them through to each other. It’s similar to the Yahoo Pipes theory, where data and RSS feeds will be filtered through a series of Unix style pipes to get the required set of user data. The data coming into and filtering the flow will come from a variety of sources and will produce mashups of data that the data originators never planned for, but some people will just think out of the box.

Another system to get to grips with. We shall see how Microsoft Maps competes with this. It is very easy.

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