Make your own virtual tours

The great thing about Google’s open approach to Earth is that you don’t have to sit back and bemoan the lack of X or Y on the existing layers. You can use Google Earth as a base for your own virtual tours, presentations or plans and then easily share the results with friends and family. It’s surprisingly simple and the only thing you need is a Google account and access to Google’s online mapping service, Google Maps (http://maps.google.co.uk).

it_photo_17645You can edit Placemark text in rich-text format, styling the font, size and colour, and adding hyperlinks to pages on the web. Alternatively, do the hard coding yourself in HTML.

The secret is the My Maps tab on the left-hand side of the Maps window. Click the Create New Map link to begin your project, give it a title and a brief description, choose whether you want it to be a private map or searchable within the local area and away you go. The fundamental element is the Placemark. You can create one anywhere you like by right-clicking on the map and selecting Add a Placemark, or by clicking on the blue Placemark icon in the toolbar at the top-left of the map.

Alternatively, you can search for a place using the Search box, select it by clicking on the red Placemark icon next to it in the Search Results tab and then add it to your custom map by clicking the Save to My Maps link. If you wanted to put, say, local Indian restaurants on a Google Earth map, it doesn’t get much easier than this.

One trick to remember is that Google Earth will later tour your placemarks in the order you add them, so if you’re plotting a map that chronicles a journey or a series of events then bear this in mind. Note also that placemarks can always be dragged around for more accurate positioning later – you don’t need to get them perfect straight away.

To edit the title or text of a Placemark, click on it or select it from the My Maps tab, and then click the edit link. The Edit box works in plain text, rich text and HTML modes. In rich-text mode, it’s easy to change text colours, fonts and sizes, or even add live hyperlinks, while those comfortable with HTML can work directly with the source code. It’s also possible to add photos or videos you’ve already uploaded to an online service such as Picasa Web or YouTube. For images, simply load the item using the photo service, right-click on it and select Properties to copy the HTTP address, ready to paste into the Google Maps dialog. For video, you need to follow Google’s instructions and copy the relevant snippet of HTML code into your Placemark code.

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Graphic elements are also possible. You can trace routes between placemarks, point-by-point, by clicking the Lines icon on the toolbar or overlay shapes on the map by clicking the Shapes icon and drawing them line-by-line. You can add a description when the line or shape is finished, and set other details such as the line colour, width, fill colour or level of transparency (Fill Opacity) by clicking on the coloured block in the top-right corner of that dialog.

Upload photos to an online-sharing service to add images and videos to your placemarks.

Once you’ve built up your route map or presentation, you’ll need to transfer it to Google Earth. Click on the KML link above the map and it will be saved as a file in Google Earth’s KML. Double-click on it to take it for a spin. Select your work in the Places palette and press Play to begin a tour, or expand the Placemarks tree beneath the overall heading to check out each Placemark one-by-one. Alternatively, you can host your KML files on a publicly available web server or private intranet.

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