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Google Zooms in on Earth, Maps at Where 2.0

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Google said it will refresh its Google Earth/Google Maps strategy at the Where 2.0 conference here this afternoon.

In a speech before conference attendees titled "The Evolution of the Geoweb," Google Earth and Maps Director John Hanke announced new features called Street View and Mapplets. He also called for more standardization of the Geoweb.

Street View enables users to view and navigate within 360-degree street level imagery from San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas, Denver and Miami. The images are at a high enough resolution to allow users to zoom into the fine print of nearby street signs. The feature is similar to the bird's eye-view feature Microsoft introduced with its Live Local Search last fall.

Stephen Chau, a Google Maps product manager, told internetnews.com that Google's first priority is to add more cities to the Street View roster, rather than keep the current five cities frequently updated. The imagery, which is between a month and a year old, comes from Google and third-party vendors, he said.

Taking the stage after Hanke, Google geo software engineer Bernhard Seefeld demonstrated Mapplets.

Mapplets, Seefeld said, enables third-party developers to create mini applications that can be displayed on Google Maps, much like Google Gadgets are displayed on iGoogle. Seefeld demonstrated how to use a pair of Mapplets to find an apartment to rent in Chicago.

Beyond the two new features, Hanke and Seefeld reiterated the need to standardize what they called the Geoweb. Toward that goal, Google today released a draft spec of KML 2.2, the language in which Google codes its geo-referenced information.

"As John said, what's really important to fuel [the Geoweb's] growth is to increase the support for open standards," Seefeld said.