Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Offroading Home: on Google Earth

Some years ago now Google gobbled up a small upstart company whith a good idea: Panoramio. It was a company which developed software that would allow people with pictures to share – professional and wannabe alike – to geocode their shots with latitude and longitude then upload them to their servers for others to see. Their idea? To cover the earth with photos of actual places to go beyond what you could get with a flat map.

Once the company had succeeded enough to make it obvious that this was a good idea, Google made a couple of developers very rich… and happy! They bought Panoramio and added it to the growing cadre of "add-ons" to their second "cash cow" product – Google Earth.

Offroading Home has been using the service for years – it's a good place to "hang" your trip photos for others to see and the background is the actual earth instead of a wall.

It does take a bit of work up front to "geo-tag" your photos with the latitude and longitude of the point that you took them. Just how much work depends upon your camera and your GPS unit.

Geo-tagging Photos for Panoramio

There are cameras now which, believe it or not, actually have a built in GPS unit and can geo-tag each photo as you take them – voila, easy peasey. Most of us, however, still need to do it the "old fashioned" way; although, you're hard pressed to convince one of us "codgers" that running around the globe with a GPS unit and digital camera is "old fashioned!"

The minimum camera you need is a digital one which will tag each of your photos with the date and time it was taken. Then all you need to do is use some software that takes your GPS track and looks up exactly were you were at the time of each photo. The software will take the location it finds from your GPS and add it to the photograph's "meta data" – a techy term for all the "heading" information contained in every computer file, image or otherwise.

Most of the Garmin GPS units will create a track of where you've been by recording a long series of "breadcrumbs" – coded with lat, lon and time (in Greenwich Mean Time). That's all you need to make it work. Other companies, however (my Lowrance included) just create tracks with a series of lat and lon - no time.

In case you own one of those types of units, you (we) are relegated to an additional step: setting an actual waypoint whenever we stop to take a photo. Waypoints, do seem to contain times and porting them to your computer doesn't seem to strip it out.

Then, there are some programs which will utilize both tracks and waypoints in their lookup for photos. Time zones and daylight savings times are easily accounted for by programs such as GpicSync, the program I use.

Anyone can obtain a free account at Panoramio to upload and display their photos. And it's those photos which Google reviews to find the ones it displays in those tiny blue boxes in Google Earth. There are a few standards that they need to meet besides being of technically acceptable quality. They don't take photos of people, or indoors, or domestic animals etc. They just want photos of the earth.

Panoramio API

Recently, Google has made available a little piece of code, called a "widgit" or API, which allows people who have web sites or write blogs to display Panoramio photos on their sites. The photo at the top of this blog post today utilizes the widgit. You may have also noticed that the display at the top cycles through several photos one after the other. If it is too distracting you can click on the little "pause" icon in the corner.

The widget comes in different "flavors" however. Much more common is the type below which allows you to hover over the photo and click right or left in order to have control over the photo's you want to look at. Or there may be some small thumbnails below the main photo which you can click on.

The person posting to the web also has control of setting the height and width of the display as well as several other factors. You can plug in an account number in order to view only photos from one specific account. You can even narrow it down to only photo's which have been tagged with a specific content tag.

The viewer below is set to only display Offroading Home photographs which have been tagged as having been taken during trips into the Parashant Grand Canyon area.

Who Uses Panoramio?

If you haven't used Google Earth with the Panoramio feature turned on you should try it at least once. To turn it on, move your mouse over to the left panel and make sure the section called "layers" is open so you can see what it contains. Scrolling down the section you should see a feature labeled "photo's" or "Panoramio." Just make sure the little box is checked and you've got it on. Now when you zoom into an area you should see little blue boxes every where Google has extracted a photo. The closer you get to the ground, the more blue boxes you'll see.

In case you, like I, wonder just how worthwhile it is to upload photos to Google Earth, they have recently made available several statistics for each Panoramio account. For example I can now tell you that when I prepared this post in February the photos of Offroading Home have been viewed 209,548 times in total. In the prior 30 days the 340 photos which have been uploaded so far were viewed 16,048 times.

And lest you think I'm overly impressed, I'm not. For grins I checked the statistics for Lynn Sessions over the same time frame. You remember Lynn, he's the Utah fellow who has photographed EVERY city/town/hamlet in all of Utah! His 3784 photos had received 6,749,284 views - 291,496 of them in prior 30 days!

None-the-less, our Offroading Home photos are very frequently viewed when people browse around in Google Earth. It's nice because once a photo has been selected for Google Earth everyone has the chance to see it, not only those who are using one of our maps.

We can even tell which photos are the most heavily viewed. The statistics widget tells me that the most frequently viewed Offroading Home photos are:

Top 8 Most Frequent.
1- The Oasis at Devil's Fire
2- Khota Circus Petroglyph
3- Mushroom Rock at Devil's Fire
4- Falling Man Petroglyph
5- Mud Wash Petroglyph
6- Erosion at Devil's Fire
7- Sink Hole at Devil's Throat
8- Petroglypy's of Newspaper Rock

There you have it, pretty much all I know about how Google picks and creates those blue boxes you see on Google Earth. Now that you're used to it, you may want to leave the feature on much of the time you are using Google Earth. An advantage that I've found for doing so is that they can help you get your bearings better.

One of the deficiencies of GE is that often when you are looking at satellite images from lower altitudes, it can be impossible to tell "where you really are." Merely hovering over one of those blue boxes may give you a clue from the title of the photo which appears.

It should be said also that Google has recently begun showing small adverts on the photo pop-ups when you click on them. Because the photographer does not own GE, and has previously given GE rights to do so when he/she uploaded the photo onto Google's server, Google is the only one who see's any revenue from the process. When Panoramio first started no such ads were shown; but, they snuck that one in on us without much fanfare a few months ago.

Learn A Little More

I've posted some clips about former president Ronald Regan before, but I'm continually suprised at the fellow's quick wit and sense of humor. No wonder he was able to turn world-wide public opinion against the seclusionary, political policies of the former Soviet Union.

I'm not sure where I was when he was doing his standup comedy routines for I seem to have missed them the first time around. However I'm catching up on them now.

The Standup Comedy of Former President Ronald Regan


Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I will, of course, be moderating all comments to make sure (a) they conform to the standards of good taste set forth by Offroading Home; and (b) nope that's pretty much it.