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Oct. 19, 2011, 12:30 p.m.

Tool of the day: Google’s “Follow Your World” feature

A web app lets you track satellite and aerial imagery over time.

Google has a cool feature: an app, Follow Your World, that allows you to track satellite images of locations you specify within Google Maps and Google Earth. Each time Google updates its satellite and aerial imagery for the areas you’ve selected, it’ll send you a notification letting you know about the new info.

The feature’s been around since January; today, it’s expanding into 43 additional languages, from Arabic to Estonian, Serbian to Vietnamese. And while the app is a nifty thing overall — you could use it, say, to track changes in the neighborhood you grew up in, or on your college campus, or at the town you’ll be vacationing in this winter — the feature also provides potentially useful data for reporters. (Particularly in combination with Google Earth’s Historical Imagery showcase, which lets you compare satellite images as they’ve changed over time.) Think of, say, reporting on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project. Or following the effects of the Gulf oil spill. Or visualizing the destruction and reconstruction that followed Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

“Whether journalists are covering their local communities or global events, aerial imagery often plays an essential role in shaping and sharing their stories,” Sean Carlson, manager of news industry relations at Google, told me in an email. “You might think of this feature like a Google Alert for the places that are important to you.”

But don’t expect your inbox to be flooded with updates. As the FAQ notes:

Imagery updates in any particular area can take months and even years. We’re continuously working to make this time span shorter, but we can’t guarantee a specific timeline for an update. Whenever we update your interested area, we’ll send you a notification email.

POSTED     Oct. 19, 2011, 12:30 p.m.
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