Friday, October 25, 2013

Google Earth Tour Builder Review

Previously I couldn't get GETB working*, I've worked out a work around* so now I have so a fuller review for you:

The tool is at https://tourbuilder.withgoogle.com/

Firstly, a little shout for joy is in order:  YESSSSSSSSSSSSS!  It looks good.

Some History:  A week before I saw it I was trying to get a funding bid accepted to build pretty much what this is, and I've been banging on about the need for it for years.  Other's have had a go at this (see previous post) but nothing has come close to filling the need IMHO so well done whoever 'withgoogle.com' is.

Educational Uses:  I get students to produce Google Earth tours on two courses, I think as an assignment it really works, I've showcased an example of a student's work previously and I think its such a neat teaching tool that I gathered some thoughts from colleagues on the idea (under 'Space stories') at a conference this summer.

What GETB does:  Previously you could record a Google Earth tour in Google Earth but if you wanted to edit it, you had to get into the KML code.  Also, fiddling around with lots of elements in the places column was tedious and you ran out of space quickly.  With this tool you can define a series of locations and then upload images, compose text or link to videos related to each location.  You do it 'in the cloud' as your tour is saved in a location related to your Google account so to edit, you must be online but you have the advantage that you can access your tours from any online machine.

Once you've created a tour, you can edit the sequence of location by simple drag and drop.  The interface is very clean (inheriting look and style from Google's standard interface design) and its very intuitive.

Nice Touches:  

  • Rocket path: When flying from low location to a distant far location the path loops high following the rocket path rather than staying close to the ground surface (crow path).  More detail under best practice 13 here.  Nice to think someone reads this blog :)  
  • Hidden Titles:  I also liked the way the control column hides the location's title unless rolled over with the mouse.  
  • Streetview:  drop a location in streetview and the tour will use streetview when played.  
  • Slide Metaphor:  Google Earth tours in Google Earth play via a VCR controller.  GETB uses a slide metaphor which is easier to understand and navigate when playing a tour IMHO.  It also makes editing easier.
  • Import KML:  This feature allows more advanced features to be associated with a location (e.g. polygon annotation) but the complexity that goes with this is hidden from most users.  One of the problems with the earlier attempt at a tour editor Google Earth Studio was that the complexity was visible to all and was overwhelming for users who just wanted to do something simple.


Missing Features:

  • Audio: With so much going on visually in a tour, its best to deliver the narration via audio, which you can do with Google Earth tours.  More details.  I'd suggest this is an important feature to add.
  • Overlays:  A powerful feature of tours is to be able to incorporate ground overlays in the main screen.  At the moment you can add polygons and lines by importing KML but it won't import KMZ's which would allow overlay imports.  E.g. a screenshot of OpenStreetMap which would be far less visually complex as a base map than the standard satellite view of Google Earth.
  • Tutorials and support?  It's nice and straightforward but help files would really open up its use to a wider audience and GETB is definitely suitable for non-techies.  

Overall, brilliant.  I will be using with my students ASAP



*doesn't work: chrome in Lion.  On Snow leopard with chrome it works

8 comments:

John Bailey said...

I'm running Chrome on Lion....I think the true explanation is that your computer hates you.

Tone said...

Have been playing around with GETB. Looks very cool and dead simple to use. I have been using something called myHistro with my students. It's very good but not particularly user friendly. I have shown one group of my students and they agree that it is easier to use than myHistro.
What I found very interesting was that I couldn't upload images to GETB until I stopped a website tracking app I use to block things like Google Analytics.

Tone said...

Have been playing around with GETB. Looks very cool and dead simple to use. I have been using something called myHistro with my students. It's very good but not particularly user friendly. I have shown one group of my students and they agree that it is easier to use than myHistro.
What I found very interesting was that I couldn't upload images to GETB until I stopped a website tracking app I use to block things like Google Analytics.

Jesse Weisz said...

As a non-profit that helps teachers bring travel experiences into classrooms, my organization, GEEO (www.geeo.org), is very excited about tour builder. I sent the following questions to the tour Builder team and am yet to hear a reply:

Is there any way I can import a folder of Placemarks or a kmz file into a new tour? We have created 35 different presentations in Google Earth that incorporate typically 30 Placemarks each. Re-entering the locations will be tedious given the 3-D nature of Google Earth. A simple import option would be great. If this is possible now please let me know how to do it. If it is an option that will be ready soon, please let me know when so I know how long I have to wait until I get to work on this project.

It would be nice to allow one of my co-workers to edit the tour when I share it with them. Now it seems like they can only be viewers, not editors, unless I let them login with my google account.

At the moment I don't have the ability to make a copy of a tour someone sends me. This is a great function in Google docs and I hope it will be in tour builder as well as it allows the teachers using our presentations to customize them without changing our general version.

I can't seem to set a Placemark/snapshot for the Introduction slide. How come there is no snapshot ability here?

It would be great if during the fullscreen view we could have photos or video automatically go full screen. I am not sure my audience will click on each of the images in the side bar.

I can't seem to make an invisible pin for placemarks. That would be really useful as sometimes I don't want to place a pin down.

Is there any timeline on when I can see these kinds of upgrades?

Is this on the chopping block, like Reader was? I don't want to put hundreds of work hours into a product that will be unsupported, or worse, cut, in a few years.

Rich Treves said...

Jesse,

I understand your frustrations. Note that its 'in Beta' and is an experiment. This means that Google thinks it may be a good idea but is just putting it out there to see the response.

Given that, don't expect them to respond to your requests at the moment.

Your choices are wait for Google to get more serious about it or pay a developer to build you a tool that does what you want. The code to manipulate tours is XML so it would be pretty straightforward to do.

hope that helps

Richard

Rich Treves said...

p.s. to Jesse: yeah, don't go spending lots of time building stuff needing GETB at the moment. 'Beta' implies, 'no promises' that they'll keep it.

R

Charity Harbeck said...

I'm trying to find out if a Tour built with Tourbuilder can be exported to KMZ or KML and opened in Google Earth. Any ideas?

Rich Treves said...

I think that would be a great idea too, as of yet, you can't do it. Google may not choose to do it either...