Google Airlines! Now Departing From Your Terminal

Google’s purchase of Keyhole lets the search giant further its agenda by offering a service that allows users to virtually “fly” to local destinations, measuring distance, tilting the view, and doing a variety of things that are impossible with a normal search. But has Google thought through all the ramifications of the service? Clint Dixon thinks not, and sees legal hazards looming ahead.

Google has for all intents and purposes now gone into the travel business. They also have positioned themselves to enter a new realm of providing “relevant” content. Google recently acquired a company called Keyhole. Google played this acquisition low key, and in October focused their home page on their new Google desktop search tool. Yahoo, MSN and several others of the major search engines apparently thought they had to rush to follow Google by releasing their own version of a desktop search tool.

However, over the weekend of November 20, 2004, Google changed their front page to present a new service named “Keyhole From Google.” While everyone else was looking to catch up to Google’s desktop search, they missed the announcement in October that the Mountain Valley search giant had acquired Keyhole.

While Google flipped the front page they also dropped the announcement of their desktop search appliance like a hot potato. When you watch the enemy’s front too intently you often miss them flanking you. Apparently MSN and Yahoo were wearing blinders. And as most people know, whomever is first to market with a killer application or technology is often the owner of largest slice of market share.

Keyhole is a new technology that allows anyone to use his or her desktop to search the world with a bird’s eye view. Keyhole is the 3D digital earth pioneer. They are the only company to deliver a 3D digital model view of the entire earth via the Internet. Keyhole’s groundbreaking EarthStreamâ„¢ technology combines advanced 3 dimensional graphics and Internet network streaming innovations to produce a high performance system, which runs on personal computers and servers as well.

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With Google’s Network of Search Partners and their close to 90% market share of world wide searches, the acquisition of this new technology allows Google to slam local search into their users’ faces by simply typing in an address and allowing them to virtually fly to the location. Users can measure distance, tilt the view, print the picture and e-mail it.

Using this technology, users will be able to locate hotels, tourist destinations, restaurants, movie theathers, local retail merchants, and shopping malls. They’ll even be able to locate sports stadiums and examine an overlay of the seating areas available. As a colleague noted, “no more waiting in line for pizza.”

Imagine living in Philadelphia, PA and being able to shop for a new home in Malibu, CA or perhaps the French Riviera or Sydney Australia — with this new feature you can tour the world without moving an inch from your comfy couch. Are you an avid ski bum looking for trail conditions early in the season? Bring up a search for Vail, Colorado, fly in your virtual helicopter over the slopes, and instantly you know whether to head out or wait.

There is currently a $29.99 a month subscription for the Keyhole service. That price reflects Google’s announcement that the price would be cut from the pre-acquisition price of $69.99 a month. That is just one side of the profit equation. What remains to be seen is how Google will monetize the services deeper inside Keyhole where businesses will be most interested in advertising themselves.

While checking out Keyhole for this article, I zoomed in on the Boston, MA demo that was available. One thing I noticed was an overlay of the street map, which showed all the Dunkin’ Donuts stores in the city.

This is an even greater way for Google to generate ad revenue. If a user searches for a coffee shop in Cambridge, MA, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Harvest Coop, Bread and Circus, and Cezanne Cafe and Bakery and other merchants can all bid to have their overlay shown first. Additionally bookstores with a coffee shop and convenience stores that have coffee could also bid for placement.

Additional features that can be envisioned include a map to the coffee shop, using real images and printable to PC, laptop, PDA, and cell phone. Once the map is printed out, in the right hand column could be a coupon to the coffee shop for a return visit, perhaps as well as offers from merchants in the immediate area. This too could be monetized by Google to generate even more revenue, thereby increasing shareholder value.

The widespread capabilities of the Keyhole Technology will certainly allow Google to earn additional revenue. There are currently two consumer versions, a professional version and an enterprise solution. The enterprise solution consists of three elements, Keyhole 2 Fusion, software that marries Keyhole streaming servers to your imagery, GIS, terrain or RDBMS databases. The second part, Keyhole2 server, delivers a 3D world to hundreds of users from one server, while and Keyhole Enterprise Client puts a 3D world on your computer which can be accessed at video game speed, delivering on demand content.

Another feature is the ability to put Keyhole Imagery on your website and allow your website visitors to view any scene. Along with overlays of roads, highways, and businesses, you can add customizable overlays of data important to you or your viewers to view comprehensive data about your business.

Planning a trip to Kuala Lumpur? Surf over to your travel agent’s website and then take a bird’s eye view to your destination.

The many industries where this feature can be utilized include commercial and residential real estate, architecture and engineering, insurance, media, defense intelligence, homeland security, federal, state, and local government. The possibilities are endless in both the good and the bad that can be utilized with Keyhole, and herein may lay Google’s largest challenge to date.

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The George Orwellian classic 1984 predicted cameras in the sky to view the citizens of earth. China wants to place one hundred satellites in orbit to watch the citizens of the country. The year is 2004, a mere twenty years past the predicted date of arrival. The ramifications from this technology will not only change the way search is done but will spawn an avalanche of concern and worry.

One specific industry I left out of the group above is the legal industry. Not that the law industry will be in a rush to use Google’s Keyhole technology: lawyers will be more interested in the amount of legal activity and court time caused by such a technology. Something that widespread, far reaching, and a perhaps a little too close reaching, is bound to make many people uncomfortable, to say the least. 

While the technology is not in placed to bring real time imagery data to the Internet, it can be invented, and one day soon it will be a reality. The mere thought that people can be watched by anyone who cares to spend $29.99 a month, and adding in the government’s use of such technology, will drive civil libertarians and lawyers to the law books and media. As this technology is so new, lawyers will be spending a great deal of time in court for groups that are either for or against this spy in the sky service.

There is not much that brings out the protesters more than the invasion of privacy by the government. The suspicions that will be associated with this technological breakthrough are bound to be twisted and turned into accusations of government spying, intrusion, and violations of constitutional rights.

Google may have been better served aligning as a preferred partner with Keyhole, rather than making them an acquisition. There will be countless legal maneuvering to which Google will be named the defendant. The cost of these legal battles could easily and quickly dig deep into Google’s pockets of cash.

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On top of that Keyhole will face challenges from other governments worldwide who will not want to have the American government or its allies looking into their country at will. The American and many other nations’ governments will also have something to say in regard to maintaining national security.

There is a saying that information is power, and Google is positioning itself to be the information authority on the information superhighway. When things move along at the speed of such highways there are invariably tragic accidents. Google, in its rush to be part of as many aspects of peoples’ lives as it can be, may be headed for disaster with this latest ability to slip into people’s backyards. 

Thinking about this, I believe that Eric Schmidt (Google’s CEO) should have seen the legal battles on the horizon if he were doing his job properly. This begs the question of whether he is the CEO…or just a puppet for the boys to get past their IPO.

Google acquired Keyhole on October 27th and by November 20th it was displayed prominently on their front page, displacing the desktop search appliance they had just released in beta and which has been in development for some time. Brin and Page seem to have bought themselves a new toy and rushed off to play with it and show everyone how fantastic it is, but did they stop to look into the future and see possible ramifications? I feel they haven’t; fortunately, I am not a stock analyst.

Google made a smart decision in buying this company, but was the decision to make the technology available to everyone a very smart move or will it come back to bite them in the rear? Only time will tell, but from where I sit Google on my PC when I want it is good; Google in my backyard uninvited is not.

On a side note, I like the Keyhole application tremendously, but I do not like it to the point where I want some hell bent radicals with chips on their shoulders and PCs that can now zoom to anywhere in the world, to be able to plan how to wreak havoc without leaving the comforts of their caves.

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