Another timely and excellent perspective from The Economist; recommended reading (no subscription required)
Geobrowsers are a stunningly effective means of visualising the planet. But they are just one part of a broader endeavour, the construction of a “geoweb” that is still in its infancy, much as the world wide web was in the mid-1990s. The web did away with many geographical constraints, enabling people with common interests to communicate, regardless of location. Yet placelessness jettisons some of the most useful features of information, which are now attracting new attention.
At present the most feverish excitement surrounds the combination of virtual maps with other sources of data in “mash-ups”. One of the earliest examples, housingmaps.com, created in 2005, combines San Francisco apartment listings from Craigslist.org with Google Maps. Mash-ups have since become commonplace—Google says its maps are used in more than 4m of them. In April the company added features to Google Maps to make it easier to create mash-ups. Microsoft is at work on a similar tool. Another site, platial.com, provides free mash-up tools for bloggers, spawning a new genre in self-absorption: autobiogeography.