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Google’s mission is famously to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Apparently, that mission really does include the entire world, as the company is set to roll out an update to Google Earth that will include imagery and maps from the planet’s oceans.
According to The Guardian, the new features will also include environmental data to help track the
“effect of climate change on the world’s seas and oceans.” Former Vice President and environmentalist Al Gore will be part of an event today in San Francisco to announce the Google Earth upgrade. Meanwhile, we wonder where this fits into Google’s broader plan for world domination.
How Is Google Getting This Data?
Unlike Google Street View, where Google obtains street-level imagery by sending vans around the country gathering photos, it doesn’t sound like the company is deploying its own submarines to explore the ocean (cue shareholder sigh of relief). Rather, Google is developing partnerships with others that already send vessels underwater.
National Geographic’s Underwater Imagery
The Guardian notes that in addition to Gore, another adviser to the project is Sylvia Earle, an “explorer-in-residence” at National Geographic. That publication and cable channel are well-regarded for their coverage of the world’s extreme locations, so a partnership there would be a big boon to the project. Ideally (for Google), there isn’t a massive cash overlay needed to collect the data, but rather, they can piggyback on others and share revenue down the line.
Is There Money to be Made?
Google Earth, which has now reportedly been used by more than 400 million people (note: not necessarily active users), is a free product. And while there are naturally opportunities for local advertising, that’s not exactly the case for ocean imagery. So how could underwater imagery and data make money?
While it sounds like Earth underwater would be super cool for the curious to check out, it also sounds like there could be a wealth of well-organized data that’s worth money to the types of people that seriously research this stuff. That said, charging for data is something Google hasn’t done in the past – a more natural fit might be licensing the data to be used in other commercial applications.