The “Time Slider:” A new idea for Google Earth

[Fun as it is to toy with Google Earth, it’s even “funner” to dream up ways to improve it. Here’s one idea I had for improving an already amazing program.]

The time slider

5.21.08

Kenneth Burchfiel

The current software for Google Earth lets us view in three directions: North/West, South/East and towards the center/away from the center. Aren’t we missing a fourth?

Don’t take me the wrong way. I’m not asking that we use live cameras for the Google Earth feature, nor do I devise a way to take users back to the days of Moses or the dinosaurs. Rather, I have a pretty simple idea for giving users a sense of how our Earth—natural and man-made aspects alike—have changed.

We all know that the satellite photography in Google Earth is updated quite rapidly in some areas. At the moment, it seems that the new imagery simply overwrites the old, giving users an updated, yet static relief of a given area. Is there not wasted potential in those less recent pictures?

This is where my idea for a time machine—a “time slider,” really—comes in.

Say that you’re looking over a certain part of New York. All the familiar controls are at your fingertips, with one addition: a slider connected to a bar depicting five or so calendar years. Move the slider to 2003, and you’ll see the 2003 Google Earth photo of that area. Shoot it ahead to 2006, and you’ll see new buildings appear, new roads paved—or, perhaps, a new shot of your car pulling out of the driveway. In short, the time slider would allow one to view past Google Earth images for a given area by means of a tab that slides between certain years of aerial photography. This would allow them to see, firsthand, how places have changed over time.

Things get even more interesting when we consider the possibility of historic aerial pictures. Let’s move eastward to Berlin. Placing your cursor on the time slider, you go from 2008 to 1947—discovering a black-and-white scene of desolation. You then slide the tab to 1973, and—what’s this? The Berlin wall is up! One more shift, this time to 1993, and a bird’s-eye view of the reunited capital shows yet another change in the city’s makeup.

The time slider might also be an ally in the fight against global warming. Let’s travel south to Antarctica. The wall of ice on our screen looks imposing enough, but—what’s this? If we move the time slider back to a 2006 Google Earth photo, we can see just how big that ice shelf used to be. Darfur activists could move the time slider back to 2003, then advance it slowly to watch the Janjaweed’s swath of destruction.

However one uses the time slider, they’re sure to begin seeing this Earth in a new dimension.

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