The point of Google Sky

Over on Twitter James of Backyard Sketches says this after trying out Google Sky:

closing the new version of google earth as I have already paid good money for stuff that does it better
I might be reading him wrong but I get the impression that he's not overly impressed by it. But, given the comment, I think he might be missing the point slightly.

Astrogeek says more or less the same thing:
As a tool that introduces some basic astronomy concepts, it’s cool. However, as a tool for use by anything more than the greenest amateur it falls short.
While it's obvious that Google Sky isn't (currently?) up to competing with much of the planetarium software that most amateur astronomers use (Stellarium, Starry Night, XEphem, Cartes du Ciel, etc...) I doubt that's really the point of it. As I see it, the one important thing that Google Sky offers is a common meeting ground for lots of little projects that people have yet to think up.

We've seen this with Google Maps, Google Earth and lots of other Google projects. The thing that Google tends to deliver best is an API or some sort of common platform that others can use to create useful things. From where I'm sat it would appear that this is the aim of Google Sky too.

For example, I can imagine that it would be easy enough for a keen astrophotographer to publish their images as a Google Sky layer in much the same way as I've done with my conventional photography. I can imagine Stuart providing a KML feed that works alongside his radio telescope twitter feeds. I can imagine using it as an alternative way of navigating an index of my observing logs. I imagine that there's people out there, right now, hacking on layers I've not even thought of yet (and probably never would).

In other words, it strikes me that if you're interested in sharing information, if you're interested in building and maintaining a community, if you're interested in trying to contribute to the popularisation of amateur astronomy, it's easy enough to see that Google Sky is potentially a very useful (cross platform) interface in which interesting things can be built.

I can't help but think that quickly looking at it and seeing that it's not as rich as some of the existing planetarium software is missing the point.


Stuart said...

OK Dave, you got my attention. So how do I go about writing KML?

Dave Pearson said...

I'm just about to leave the office so can't do much in detail, but start here (which I linked to in the above article <g>) and see if that helps.

Note that for your purposes you'll probably need to use the network redirection approach. It might not be obvious from the above how to do that but I can probably help you at some point soon.

I use that approach for my photographs. If you look at http://www.davep.org/photographs/kml/ (but try and do it in a way that doesn't invoke Google Earth -- wget would be good if you've got it to hand) and then http://www.davep.org/photographs/kml/getdata.php you'll probably start to get the idea.

Note that I don't know if there's any difference between the usual KML files and the ones that are used in the Sky mode so we might need to look for extra documentation.

When I'm next at my desk I'll have a proper look around for you.

Dave Pearson said...

Further to the above, in case you've not found it already, here's the documentation for the Sky spin on KML data.

Nick said...

Thanks for posting the info Dave. I've never really played around with kml before so I figure, here is my chance

James said...

After reading your post Dave, I'm pretty happy to concede that I have probably missed the point :)

If someone can build stuff using the API even close to what you've described then I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon, however, I am not that guy and the coders out there best pull their fingers out!

Until then, its not much use to me.

Dave Pearson said...

Indeed. To use a slightly silly analogy: Google Sky is a road, and lots of people are looking at it and going "That's a rubbish car, it's missing loads of stuff I need from a car, WORST. CAR. EVER!"

Well, yeah, that's 'cos it's a road.

See, I told you it was a silly analogy. ;-)