Sunday, July 1, 2007

VisuMap and Google Earth

I have been a frequent user of Google Earth. It is really amazing to visit interesting places all over the world. However, the way Google Earth implemented the mouse navigation has caused me a little concern for some time.

With Google Earth (with default settings of 4.0.2091 or older) you zoom into a location by scrolling the mouse wheel forewards which gives you the feeling of move yourself closer to earth. I could not get used to this behavior. When I wanted to zoom in, I often made the mistake to scroll the mouse wheel in opposite direction. In VisuMap software we have several views that simulated the 3D space navigation that allows the user to explore data like flying within the data. After some consideration we have decided to implement the zoom-in navigation contrarily to Google Earth default method, we zoom in closer to data by scrolling the mouse wheel backwards.

For quite long time we have thought to change our navigation method to the one like Google Earth, since we don't want to spoil our user's experience. Google Earth is such a popular software, there must be a reason that they implemented the navigation method that way, we though.

To my great relief today, when I upgraded my Google Earth to version 4.0.2737, the first thing I noticed is that Google Earth changed its default zoom-in method to the way we always though is the better way and implemented in our software.

In retrospect, I guess Google Earth first wanted to simulate flying an airplane around. Most people would probably have thought so too. If you were flying an airplane with the mouse, you probably tend to scroll back to pull the airplane.(e.g. to zoom-out from the image). However, most people are not used to the experience of flying an airplane. We tend rather to use the mouse to control the object (i.e. the earth) before us. Thus, the new Google Earth version has followed the common experience. I have great respect for Google's engineers for making such small yet relevant change. This remind me of some countries which still drive on the left lane, I would be scared to drive on the left lane.

1 comment:

James X. Li said...

Unfortunately, the sister product Google Maps still uses the airplane-flying style to zoom-in/out. And there is no way to change this behavior like Google Earth.

Somebody has suggested that the airplane-flying intuition might rather come from video games where the players use the joystick to control fighters. But this still doesn't explain the inconsistence (in Google Maps) that when you drag the mouse, the mouse magically changes from controling the observer to controlling the map.