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Interview with Ed Parsons Representative GOOGLE EARTH EUROPE

In this issue of EOMAG, EARSC will have the opportunity to feature an interview with Mr. Ed Parsons from Google Earth Europe. First of all, thank you very much for taking some time from your busy agenda and giving us the occasion to talk about some aspects relevant for the geo-information sector.


Mr Parsons, first of all, could you briefly describe us your current responsibilities in the Google Earth project?

I am the Geospatial Technologist for Google, a technology evangelism role focused on Europe, and the emerging markets for Google in the Middle East and Africa. Technology evangelism in this context is all about communicating our vision for information and in particular geospatial information and establishing relationships with organisations who could become potential partners who have useful information Google can help make accessible. I also have a role in the wider product management team at Google making sure that our products and services meet the needs of local markets, taking into account local social and legal conditions and user expectations.

Could you comment on the steps from Google to move forward geo-information?

Google as I’m sure you and your readers are aware is “new” to the Geospatial Information and Earth Observation Industries, although many of the people working on our Geo products, myself including, have considerable experience within the industry. I think Key to Google’s approach to Geo-information is to understand our overall goal, “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. In achieving this we see geo-information both as a type of information to organise, but also as an organising principle itself.

For a long time professionals in the management of geo-information have recognised the value of using geographic or geospatial information to help organise other types of information, however until relatively recently the ability to do this by having access to the appropriate framework data-sets and tools was prohibitively expense.

What Google, and the other large search companies have done is to lower the barrier to access these tools, so that today almost any user of the internet can finally access geospatial information using simple tools such as Google Earth, Google Maps and Google Maps for Mobile. This has come about because of technological advancements in information systems and devices, but also because of innovations in business models which allow users free access to global data-sets which are costly to collect and license.


Google Earth is free online to the consumer, where is Google going with this product? Who funds the programme? How much does it cost? Which benefits do you get from the use? Is Google Earth a value for money?

Google Earth is a wonderful tool for exploring our planet and understanding the patterns and relationships of human activities with the natural environment. For the vast majority of users Google Earth is free to use, although there are options for use within organisations where there is a need for more control of the type of data used. For commercial reasons we do not disclose the operational costs of the system, although I’m sure your knowledgeable readers can appreciate the considerable costs involved.

What is the main purpose of Google Earth service? And what are the differences with your competitors?

Google Earth is both a tool to search, visualise and explore our planet and a tool to allow communities to create and share information that is important to them and that is related to particular locations. Many users start by finding their home, school or office and then explore the places they know, many may then add information that is important to them and may then share that information with other users using the many developing online communities. Many large multi-national organisations and universities use Google Earth as a tool to publish large complex data sets or to communicate the results of scientific research.

Many of us a Google are most proud of the use of Google Earth to highlight significant global issues and help explain them to a mass-market, issues including Global Climate Change and the Genocide in Darfur are of particular note I believe.

I think key to the success of Google Earth is its technical brilliance, which brings almost instant access to global data-sets and also its community of users who extend the capability of the system by adding their own information and sharing their ideas


Do you think that EO industry lacks awareness on capabilities of the sector? do you believe on strategies to gather the public and user awareness? What about branding ideas?

No, I think the EO industry clearing recognises the value of the “Mass-Market” and the importance of awareness of the capabilities of Earth Observation, in particular I think the focus of imagery companies on the branding of their products for use by the news media has been successful. I personally think more could be done to highlight the important contribution been made by Earth Observation to the Science of Climate Change.

Google earth certainly does some work on knitting the datasets together but for the most part, the company is not in the data creation business, how do you see the EO industry in Europe? Do you think in possible synergies within EO industry? How industry should be evolving? Maybe as providers?

Yes that is correct, Google tries to license data wherever possible to meet our data needs, as such we view the EO industry as a customer of it. As with most customers we are interested in increasing value for money!

Which could be the lessons learnt from Google that Earth Observation could implement?

Simplification !!

Simplification of the interfaces between the user and supplier both from a technology point of view but also in regards to business processes and licensing relationships.


What is your opinion about Global Earth Observation System of Systems, GEOSS and Global monitoring environment and security, GMES? how can market for GMES should be created in Europe?

There can be no use of Earth Observation less important at the moment that monitoring the changing environmental conditions of our planet, and as such the original GEOSS mission of 2005 is laudable. Time will tell if this approach to co-ordinating activities to bring the necessary comprehensive view of the Earth is the correct one, whatever approach is adopted we recognise the importance of making the observations collected available to as wide a possible audience as quickly as possible as a key goal, and one which we hope to be able to assist.


What are the main things you hope to see GOOGLE EARTH accomplish in the next 10 years?

That is an almost impossible questions to answer, we know we still have many challenges ahead of us if we are to achieve our goal of organising the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, we are only just scratching the surface of potential resource of geo-informational that exists, and there is still much more data to collect and organise as new missions and sensors become available. Parallel to increasing the amounts of information available, we need to continue to develop the tools that make this data as accessible as possible, when and wherever there is a user need for it.

Let’s take one step further away, what next for the geospatial marketplace? where do you see the main opportunities for the EO industry in the years to come?

I believe there are two challenges for the EO industry to really reach out to the mass-market commercial sector, imagery needs to be made available as frequently and reliably as possible, requiring a more frequent revisit capability, while at the same time reducing the cost of image acquisition. It will be interesting to see the impact on the industry of technological advances which overlay the capabilities of satellite based Earth observation with aircraft based sensors.

I see massive potential in Micro-Satellite based systems.

There is a lot of interest both within the geospatial technology industry and the consumer side. How do you see this technology connecting and impacting the citizen? How popular has the imagery layer been?

Google Earth and similar technologies have had a massive impact on increasing the awareness of citizens to the potential of Earth observation technologies, the result of more that 250 million people downloading Google Earth is that most of us no longer have to spend as much time explaining what we do. We need to be aware however that the level of understanding of the Science of Earth observations is limited.

How do you see EO and Geo-information sector in the years to come?

I think the professional / scientific sector of the industry will continue to mature and it will be supplemented by a new community of mainstream users who in many ways are already beginning to influence the expectations of the established industry in terms of user interface design and expectations of information accessibility.


-Ed Parsons, Geospatial Technologist, Google
-Cordy Griffiths, Communications and Public Affairs, Google

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