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Website of the Week

ESC!Webs Site of the Week

Week of April 23, 2000

Encarta TerraServer

Main Web Site:

I love maps.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I subscribe to National Geographic mainly for the maps.  I purchase a new electronic atlas every year just to get the few road updates available since the previous year.  I've got map stationary.  When we go to AAA to purchase traveler's checks I always let them load me up on the maps -- what the heck, they're free!  I love old maps and new maps.  Small maps and large maps.  Maps of all kinds.  Did I tell you that I love maps?

Normally I don't have tolerance for the online variety of maps.  They load too slowly.  I like to peruse the map at warp speed letting the cursor fly from one town to the next and, frankly, the online variety don't allow for this type of browsing.  This is why I buy a new copy of Microsoft Streets and Trips every year.  I can load the whole dang thing onto my hard drive and let the cursor fly.  In a pinch, I'll hop over to Encarta or Yahoo! Maps and print out a quick map, but I always find the experience an unsatisfying one.

So why review what is essentially an online map site?  Well, this is a map site with a twist.  Instead of the normal computer or hand-drawn maps, this site displays actually satellite or (mainly) aerial photographs.  You are not simply looking at a cartographer's interpretation of the land, but the land itself!  Awesome!

Visitors to the site will notice that many of the nation's landmarks are "pre-selected" for you.  Want to see the Statue of Liberty from above?  No problem!  How about the Grand Canyon?  It's there too.  You'll find all of these and more under the Famous Places section of the home page.

The site doesn't stop there, however.  If you know the exact coordinates (Lat and Long) of anywhere in the United States TerraServer can take you there.  If you don't know the coordinates, the site makes it very easy to browse to the location you'd like to see.

Now, here's the rub.  Many of the images are not up to date.  Obviously the task of photographing the entire world is a daunting one at best.  So, with a little tolerance you must understand that what you see may not be what you expect.  To give you a perfect example, I quickly located my hometown and followed the streets until I located where my house should be.  What I found in its stead was a farm field.  Well, of course!  The most recent picture of the area was from 1993.  Our home was built 5 years later.  In fact, none of the subdivisions surrounding our home even existed as recently as 1993.  So, in fact, what I find most fascinating about the site is its ability to act as a time machine, allowing me to go back to less cluttered times in history.  There were a total of three periods in time I could view which covered the Huntley area.

Besides the USGS aerial photographs, TerraServer also has USGS topographical maps of the entire country and more "traditional" maps as well.  When viewing an area using aerial photographs, I can quickly switch over to a topographical view with the click of a mouse.  Not all of the maps types are available in all areas.  As I browsed certain parts of the country, there were some areas where aerial photos simply did not exist -- yet.  If you browse to an area not covered, TerraServer politely informs you that at this point only about 35% of the United States has been photographed and loaded into the server.  More pictures are loaded every day.  So many more that it is expected that by the end of 2001, 100% of the continental U.S. will be available through TerraServer's aerial photographs.  As for topographical information, 100% of the U.S. is currently covered.  If you browse to other parts of the world, you'll find mostly SPIN-2 satellite imagery.  To make it easier for the site visitor, TerraServer codes the parts of the map where images are available in green.

Visit this site.  If you really want to know what it feels like to be a bird, this is one way to experience it.

Encarta TerraServer

Site Rating: 10/10
Pros: What can I say?  I love maps.  This is probably about as accurate as one can get when it comes to an area map.
Cons: Parts of the country are not covered yet, but this is minor considering that it is expected that 100% of the 48 states will be available by the end of 2001.  When viewing large images the site can be a little slow so be prepared for that.

Requirements: None

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