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Saturday, November 06, 2004

Google - Keyhole Acquisition Implications

Charlene Li of Forrester writes about the significance of Google's acquisition of Keyhole. Excerpts:
Besides being an amazing piece of technology, Keyhole uses geographic information as a foundation to display information – some examples CEO John Hanke demoed at the Web 2.0 conference included real-time traffic information and the location of bloggers. What Keyhole does well is amass and organize large amounts of data (sounds like Google!) – they just organize it by geography instead of by PageRank. John Batelle highlights, Keyhole is in the Holy Crap That's A Lot of Data business - that alone is reason for Google to be interested. Their database stands at 12 terabytes and growing. It covers more than 50 percent of the earth's population, and includes satellite imagery, mapping data, topographic overlays, and, pay attention here, geolocation-based content tags. Mapping data to geography will allow for multitudes of such applications. Imagine Google scaling Keyhole to all web surfers for free, and then opening up the APIs for all to develop on.
Another company that does something similar is TerraFly. Keyhole wins on sheer “wow” factor – there’s nothing quite like flying in over your building, and it has quite a few data points uploaded into the free service (the image from Keyholes shows a few local restaurants and subway stations). But Keyhole requires a cumbersome download while Terrafly works simply within the browser.

But why does Keyhole matter to Google? Besides getting some amazing mapping software (imagine plotting your driving directions in 3D), Google needs to support its nascent local search and advertising efforts. For example, Google’s AdWords allows geographic targeting, but only within a certain radius of a specific address. That’s well and good, but geographic targeting could benefit from an overlay of other types of information.
What about privacy? Depending on how you look at it, it’s the beauty or scary part about this. Much of the information already exists in databases like PRIZM that are available to the public (for a price). But because it’s not targeted at a specific household, but rather, a geographic area, the data doesn’t necessarily invade a person’s privacy. It simply makes that connection that because of where you live, you’re more likely to have certain characteristics. Overall, an excellent fit for Google.
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