GCN Tech Blog

By GCN Staff

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Mapping without borders

Sure, anyone can check this weekend's forecast from Weather.com, but imagine flying, sans airplane, over the country in a matter of seconds to see the actual conditions.

Fun? You bet. Useful? Who knows...

In any case, such a God-like view can now be done now in Second Life, with the help from weather information from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A University of Denver research assistant channeled the NOAA feeds onto a plot of virtual land resembling a miniature version of the U.S., on Second Life.

I first learned about this project in an article published by the M.I.T. Technology Review last summer(free registration required).

While it is a fascinating overview of the current state of geospatial technology, the author, Wade Roush, seems to be singularly concerned with the idea of combining Second Life and Google Earth (disclosure: Roush was once an editor for an article I wrote for that publication).

Perhaps Second Life's terrain could be stretched to represent the entire planet, or perhaps Second Life's avatars and controls could be rendered in Google Earth. Neither idea roused much interest from Google nor Linden Labs though.

Nonetheless, his question might be one of a growing number of like-minded queries people will have in the years to come: When can we carry our icons and landmarks across different geomapping applications? Could the geomapping world settle on a common set of standards the way the Web has done?

Certainly the building blocks are in place: Roush noted how Linden Labs has open sourced some of its Second Life code, and Google Earth has released its Keyhole Markup Language (KML) as an open standard.

To that we can add that the Open Geospatial Consortium has pushed a lot of geomapping capabilities into open standards, and the X3D community (formerly those behind the Virtual Reality Markup Language'VMRL) has been working to create an open set of standards for sharing and reusing three dimensional content.

In all these cases, the open standardization paves the way for reuse of geospatial components across different applications, even if the work it takes to actual do something like put your avatar on Google Earth remains considerable.

Ultimately end users will be the ones who will decide if we need to settle on one virtual world for all.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Nov 02, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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