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It’s Google’s Ocean, We Just Swim In It
Earlier today Danny blogged the Google Ocean launch event live. It was the “most produced” and Apple-like of the numerous high profile Google announcements I’ve attended — featuring former Vice President Al Gore, singer Jimmy Buffett and several scientific and oceanographic luminaries such as Dr. Sylvia Earle. The crowd was star struck by Gore and Jimmy Buffett in particular. Buffett even closed the event with a Googlized version of his song Son of a Son of a Sailor.
With humor and gravity each speaker made impassioned statements about how the new Google Ocean would advance the causes of conservation and climate change awareness. One could not help but be caught up in the enthusiasm and urgency they expressed.
Google Earth & Maps GM John Hanke described the genesis of Ocean, which came out of an offhanded remark originally made by Earle — something of a challenge — who called Google Earth “Google Dirt” because it formerly didn’t offer imagery or data about the ocean.
I’ve always been impressed by John Hanke, his sincerity and his devotion to the integrity of his projects at Google. After the Ocean event Danny spent a few minutes with him. Here are paraphrases of some of the interview notes Danny provided:
Hanke said there are roughly 20,000 pieces of new content from the various partners participating in the project. These deals are apparently not exclusive to Google so Microsoft could seek to duplicate the effort on Virtual Earth.
Hanke told Danny that the mission of Google Ocean is to advance the cause of education and conservation of the oceans and so “If Microsoft were to jump into it [ocean data], that would advance it.”
The also spoke about future improvements and the additional of more third-party content (e.g., Flickr) in the future.
Hanke doesn’t envision monetization of Ocean; monetization continues to be around local search (though one could imagine a YouTube-like click to buy feature in commercial contexts on Earth)
Hanke spoke from the podium and in his interview about the transformation of Google Earth from a proprietary product into a platform. This has been a concept at Google for some time but Ocean really seems to cement the idea of Earth as a development or content distribution platform for third parties.
An interesting bit at the event was a Tour (one the features announced today) created by Jimmy Buffett showing various locations and dates for his upcoming concert series in Hawaii. The info windows on Earth showing each of the locations and dates also allow users to buy tickets. Touring, as the feature is being called, is designed to enable people to “tell stories” with Google Earth and create dynamic presentations of their travels or a collection of locations. Buffett’s concert tour was one such example.
Marissa Mayer spoke in between John Hanke and Jimmy Buffett. Before Buffett came on she explained that the project which became Ocean emerged from the company’s much celebrated 20 percent time program. She also ticked off other 20 percent time projects that became Google success stories. The irony that struck me is that as the company is publicly celebrating these 20 percent time projects, it has reportedly scaled way back on them amid the recession and need to centralize product development efforts to a greater degree.
Another thing that struck me was that the presence of Al Gore and the apparent blessing of so many scientific, non-profit, media and conservation organizations as content partners gives Google Earth a kind of quasi public stature or elevates it as a kind of “standard.” As Hanke’s comments above suggest this doesn’t preclude competition from Microsoft or somebody else. However it makes competing with Google Earth, as a practical matter, more difficult today than it was yesterday.
Speaking of yesterday, it was as if there was something of a time warp in the room. The only evidence of recession might have been the absence of fresh fruit on the food trays outside the California Academy of Sciences auditorium where the announcement was made.
And unlike the new Google that has been pushing ads into new places on its network and seeming more concerned about monetization and revenues than ever, the Google on display this morning was the “old Google.” By that I mean the “Platonic ideal” of a tech company; the Google that subordinates making money to doing cool stuff — in this case with a larger social purpose.