Tuesday, 21st August 2007
NYT on New Google "Sky" Service But Sad to Say No Mention of Another NASA 3D Digital Globe (It's Free)
One of the most exciting things about the web is that you often run into several tools that each appear to do the same thing but -- when you dig deeper -- do not. Choice is a good thing and the web often delivers. We often think about choice in the print and electronic database worlds when a librarian will order several databases and books that offer similar features but knows that each item has its strengths versus the others.
What can be difficult -- actually a challenge -- are the constantly growing number of tools and features that often receive little or no attention from the masses, sometimes including info pros. We're not only talking about small information providers and organizers but also, at times, the big guys.
That's somewhat the case today in The New York Times with the story, "In Google Earth, a Service for Scanning the Heavens."
The article reports that beginning today Google will offer a service named, Sky. It sure sounds cool.
“You will be able to browse into the sky like never before,” said Carol Christian, an astronomer with the Space Telescope Science Institute, a nonprofit academic consortium that supports the Hubble Space Telescope.
The article mentions that other services exist like the World Wide Telescope research project at Microsoft.
However, there is not a single mention (seems strange) of another project -- NASA World Wind, developed by both NASA employees and volunteers. It has been online and growing for several years, about the same time Google Earth started to take off. World Wind offers imagery of the:
+ Earth (several data sets)
+ Sloan Digital Sky Survey
+ Layers for the Solar System and Planets.
+ Real Time: MODIS: For getting near real time images from orbiting satellites with resolution down to 250 m
+ Blue Marble Next Generation
And that's not all. Check out all of the available add-ons. For example, this add-on shows the Apollo landing sites on the Moon. Numerous data sets of Earth are also part of World Wind, and an another add-on allows users to see Virtual Earth imagery from MSFT. You could easily write a book about all that World Wind provides. It's sad that more people don't know about it. Perhaps in some (maybe not all) situations, Service B might be better than Service A, the one that is already well known.
The point is that one sentence about this service would have made the NYT article even more useful to its readers.
Is that it? Any other tools come to mind?
We like some of the features on SkylineGlobe and, of course, the bird's eye aerial imagery from Live.com. At Ask.com Maps,* both walking and driving directions are available. On Ask City, you can define a specific area (i.e., a five mile radius around your office or two miles along a specific street near your hotel) and then SEARCH that specific area. This is potentially useful not only useful for the traveler but also for the business person doing some basic market scanning. Of course, all of these tools (World Wind, SkylineGlobe, Live Bird's Eye Images, and Ask Maps) are free.
Also, it's one thing to see a location from above, but it's something else entirely to learn specific facts about the location you are viewing (i.e., census data, local business establishments, school locations, etc.). TerraFly, from Florida International University, does this particularly well. The amount of local data offered by the site -- including recently added links to Zillow -- grows daily.
In summary, for information professionals it's about researching, tracking down, learning about, demonstrating, and knowing about a wide variety of resources. This is NO different (only more difficult) then what info pros have always done in terms of collection development and "learning the collection." Yes, it's a challenge and you will not be using each and every tool daily. However, in terms of the web and knowledge of resources BEFORE they are needed, a little bit of research and discovery can go along way. Finally, fee-based services are still essential for many types of research but there are many gems (not just sites but parts of sites, search features, etc.) which are free but overlooked. Let's make sure we are using all of the choices available to us and sharing them with our users. As we always say, right tool at the right time.
See Also: World Wind Can Import KML and KMZ files.
See Also: Another Source for the Data Google is Introducing today is: Sky-Map.org. Access is free and is entirely web-based. Background in this article: Sky-Map Site To Show The Beauty Of The Universe To Everybody
You can browse the sky either in Map-Mode or in SDSS-mode. (SDSS-mode provides real-time photo images of celestial objects). While in the Map Mode, SKY-MAP searches the system database for information about the objects within a specific area. Then SKY-MAP uses this extracted information to automatically create map images. In SDSS-mode, you can observe star clusters, different galaxies, clouds of cosmic dust - formations of new stars, jets of gas erupting from the active core of distant galaxies, the remains of the supernovas' explosion, among many, many others.
The API for SKY-MAP is also available. Learn more about Hubble data here. Windows Vista user? Check out this sidebar gadget for SKY-MAP.
See Also: This post from MARCH, 2007 that discusses the site (via New Scientist).
Funny to see them compare it to Google Earth. Again, this article five months ago.
* Gary is Director of Online Info Resources at Ask.com.