User-Generated Google ‘YouEarth’?

Google took another step toward turning Google Earth into a sort of
YouTube for geo-located 3-D models today when it released a new
version of its 3-D design software Google SketchUp at Macworld.

In a statement, Google said SketchUp 6 will feature “simpler, more
realistic” modeling. New features include a function to allow users
to trace a photo to create a 3-D model or match an existing model
with a background photo.

There’s also a new feature that allows users to watermark their
models or render them as though they were drawn by hand. There’s a 3-D
text function to enable users to convert text to 2-D outlines, filled
surfaces or extruded 3-D objects.

Google said the new SketchUp features are all part of the company’s
effort to create a fully detailed 3D Google Earth with user-generated
modeling. With the new, simplified version of its 3-D design
software, Google Earth will now feature a default “Best of 3D
Warehouse” layer to showcase the most realistic, detailed models from
Google SketchUp users.

Call it “YouEarth.” It’s a platform for all the world’s user-contributed, geo-located 3-D information.

Google Product Manager John Bacus told the new user-generated layer is part of a “virtuous circle” of community content generation, sharing and rating, and content consumption in Google Earth.

Bacus said that human reviewers pick the best models to include in its “Best of” layer and a community rating system will let users tell Google which models they think are the best.

And despite the time and effort it takes to craft a 3-D model, Bacus isn’t worried about users finding incentive to contribute models.

“We preserve attribution on models from the 3-D Warehouse and I think this is a powerful motivator for many folks,” Bacus said. “It is a nice thing to have the authoritative model in Google Earth — have your name attached to it. And I think that is incentive enough for most people.”

Google’s incentive to open Google Earth to user-generated content is likely more capitalistic. The move follows a search engine industry trend to make more and more local information available for search.

IAC/InterActiveCorp’s Barry Diller, Microsoft Live Senior Product Manager Justin Osmer and Yahoo’s Frazier Miller are all racing to create local search and maps products to entice local businesses into advertising online.

By all accounts, they’re going after the money. LinkedIn Co-founder
Konstantin Guericke told online yellow pages
could turn into a $26 billion industry.

Google also announced a new Pro version of the SketchUp software with
a new feature called LayOut Beta to go with it. LayOut turns SketchUp
designs into high-resolution documents for use in professional

Additional product improvements for both the free and pro versions
include an enhanced API, two-point perspective viewing, and improved
screen and print quality. Google SketchUp 6 is available for both the Mac and PC.

A Google spokesperson told the company chose
to make its announcement at Macworld because prior to its 2006 acquisition, SketchUp had a long history of launching products at
the conference.

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