Saturday, March 20, 2010

Menu Fail

Google has changed Google Earth's Layers menu. They've basically consolidated a lot of things into one "button", Places of Interest. Activating this will open what used to be city and town names, shops, restaurants, parks, schools, banks, train stations, airports, etc. In an effort to consolidate and make things more streamlined, they've basically made it far less useful and a lot more confusing.

First off, you'll notice that there are a good deal fewer placemarks now. For example, a lot of schools seem to have disappeared. These placemarks are all altitude restricted as well, meaning that certain things disappear once you zoom out far enough. This makes it a lot more complicated to do things like find schools or restaurants near your home, unless you're only concerned with what is practically right across the street. The only positive to this change is that certain places, like airports or restaurants, have kept their unique placemarks.

Secondly, the place names don't appear unless you click on the icon to display the ddescriptive balloon. This doesn't really matter for shops and the like, but is very irritating when it comes to displaying the names of population centers using this new feature. If you want to see the old-style city names and markers, you now have to activate the Labels "button" in the Borders and Labels folder. OK, doing this will activate ALL of the labels, including those for islands, water bodies, and the like, which isn't all that bad for the most part. The problem is that it also activates all of the alternate or foreign place names as well, giving you two names for a lot of locations. This can make images very cluttered. It also isn't consistant. Mountains, for example, are included in Places of Interest, while islands are in Labels. Shouldn't all the geographic features be in the same place?

Personally, I find the second problem far more irritating than the first. I wouldn't mind if they went with either the Western or native names for the cities and whatnot, but having to have both of them displayed if you want or need them on-screen makes life a little more difficult. The only solution at this point is to develop my own series of placemarks for these locations when I need them, adding more time and effort to any project. If the point of doing this is to make things more streamlined and simpler to use, Google has, in my opinion, failed. Something that is intended to be simpler should not require the expenditure of more time and effort to get it to do what you need.

There's also the issue that a lot of their placemarks draw data directly from Wikipedia, but we won't touch that one today.

Yeah, I know I'm what would probably be considered a "niche" user of Google Earth, exploiting it for very specific and specialized purposes, but the first point I discussed above makes life more complicated for everyone. Hopefully, this will turn out to be part of a rolling update to remake the entire Layers menu. But if not, Google just made life more difficult for a lot of users, and if you ask me, it was a completely unnecessary change. Unless, of course, they just had to clear out the disk space to throw up more new imagery, but the probability of that being the reason is ridiculously remote given the fact that Google could buy new servers with the same frequency that I buy obnoxious death metal CDs.

What are your thoughts? Post them in the comments!


ripr said...

Google just failed the "Do No Evil" mantra. This is a regressive update and dramatically decreases the granularity available.

And destroys the coding work of many users.

At Frank Taylor's Google Earth Blog there is a growing list (40+) of negative comments. Anybody start a petition site?


Anonymous said...

It's like they played pick-up-sticks with the categories. So much missing. Why are political boundaries on the other end of the list from geographical boundaries and buried three deep? If you want to know what those lines are bounding, you have to know to turn on labels. But those labels don't discriminate between actual cities and neighborhoods. If I want to see(read find) parks, why do I have to look at every coffee shop and liquor store? I don't see schools at any zoom level. Finding a school is a matter of finding a green space that's slightly larger than a local park but smaller than a city park. I'm not sure how that would work in Arizona. Wikipedia is under "More" but every other website based thing is stuffed in Gallery, Ocean or Global Awareness. Things end up in Gallery even if it doesn't have anything to do with photos. NYTimes? Volcanoes?

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