Comparing Google’s Geo Project Creation Tools

February 2020 was the fifteenth birthday of Google Maps and since that beginning, their geo architects have been building out an array of resources to help students visualize the world.

But the three tools I’ll be comparing below are about more than just looking up places on a map. They allow students (and their teachers) to build interactive, media rich projects that can enhance everyone’s understanding of the world.

For each, I’ll give you a basic idea of what it can and cannot do, the technical requirements, and links to a few examples. All this information was accurate on the date published or updated, and like anything else Google-related, is subject to change.

My MapsScreen Shot 2020 01 03 at 6 37 20 PM

My Maps takes Google’s basic map as the foundation and allows users to add layers of place markings, lines, and areas. Each element can be opened to show text, images, and videos selected by the creator. Maps can be shared for collaboration or just viewing.

  • Easiest of the Google Tools to learn and use.
  • Projects can be completed and used on almost any connected device, using any major browser, including Chromebooks, tablets, and smartphones (although that’s not recommended due to the small screen size).
  • The default map is a simple version of those used for Google Maps. You also have the option of using a photo-realistic satellite view, a terrain view, and six others.
  • Maps can be shared for building collaborative projects with anyone who has a Google account.
  • All element types can include images and video. Images can be uploaded from your computer or imported from a Google Drive account, but video is limited to files posted on YouTube.
  • MyMaps requires much less bandwidth than other options. It works well in any browser and on older computers with slower processors.
  • The image above shows the editor version of a MyMaps project. Click the image to see the version shown to people without editing rights, which is simpler and without the editing tools, of course.

Tour Creator

Screen Shot 2020 01 03 at 6 59 47 PM

Tour Creator uses as it’s foundation Google’s Street View 360° images to build tours similar to those in Google Expeditions. Creators can also upload 360° images they have made. Each scene in a project can also include text, regular images, and audio. Once published, projects can be viewed by anyone with the link but there is no option for collaboration.

  • More complicated for building projects than using My Maps and requires more planning.
  • Projects can be completed and used on almost any connected device, although building and editing on a smartphone is difficult. They can also be viewed in the Google Expeditions app, with or without VR goggles.
  • Currently projects cannot be shared for collaboration.
  • Tour creator uses Google Street View images but not maps. You can also add your own images, including 360° images, text, and audio. Tours cannot include video or links to other materials.
  • Requires more bandwidth and capable computers than My Maps, including most Chromebooks, but not at much as Google Earth.
  • The image above shows the editor version of one scene of Tour Creator project. Click the image to see the version shown to anyone with the link.

Google Earth Projects

Screen Shot 2020 01 03 at 7 09 54 PM

The project feature in the browser version of Google Earth allows creators to build tours similar to those in the Voyager section. Each scene can show a “map” (actually an aerial view of the location) or a Street View 360° image. Projects can also incorporate text, still images, and video. Projects can be shared for collaboration or just viewing.

  • More complicated for building projects than either My Maps or Tour Creator, and requires more planning.
  • Projects can only be created in the Chrome browser on Macintosh, Windows, or Chromebook. They use a format similar to the Voyager presentations featured in Earth. Projects can also be viewed in the Google Earth app on tablets and smartphones.
  • Projects can include a variety of media, including 360° Street View images, text, still images from your computer, a Drive account, Google Photos, or a Google image search, and video posted to YouTube.
  • Projects can be shared for collaboration using an interface similar to Google Drive documents.
  • The image above shows the editor version of one scene of Google Earth project. Click the image to see the version shown to anyone with the link. (Must be opened in the Google Chrome browser)

Other Options

Google also has two legacy systems that can be used to create projects but I don’t recommend either, most because of the lack of support from the company.

The desktop version of Google Earth is the original software implementation that uses satellite and other aerial imagery to display locations on a globe. The program has a rich history, going back to the original release in 2005. Earth has a large collection of tools that allow creators to build layers that can include a wide variety of media including HTML code, images, overlays, text, and interactive features.

However, building projects can be complicated and they cannot be shared for collaboration. Also, viewing projects requires the distribution of files and the software (which is free) must be installed on each computer. The program will not run on Chromebooks and may not work well on older computers with slow processors and underpowered graphic systems. Projects in progress are stored within the local version of the software.

Finally, we have Tour Builder, a Google beta project since it was first launched around 2013. The original system allowed users to build projects on top of a jerry-rigged version of Earth. When the Chrome developers stopped supporting the plug-in that was required, Tour Builder started using another, less capable mapping system.

The concept for what Tour Builder was supposed to be has now been fully incorporated into Google Earth Projects, which is why I do not recommend using it. I have a feeling it will silently disappear in the near future.