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Google's 3-D Urban Maps, Built by You

Yesterday we reported that Google its competitors may be grappling to become leaders in hyper-local mapping. Google's approach: ditching map-data provider Tele-Atlas for its own super-detailed map data, some of which, the company says, will be crowdsourced. But how?

hyper-local mapping

The answer arrived today in the form of a new Google browser plug-in called Google Building Maker. It uses the guts of another Google program, three-dimensional rendering app SketchUp, and mashes it up with Google Earth to allow users to create 3-D buildings over a map of their city.

This isn't just for fun. As Google boasts in Building Maker, you are literally "helping make the world in 3-D." (Or at least, you're helping make a corporate map database in 3-D.) In other words, if you build a good-looking building and Google approves it, everyone on Google Earth will be able to see it.

Here's how it works: First, you choose a city of several dozen available worldwide. Then you use your own photos of a building to slap faces onto a 3-D shape you create with Google's tools. Once you're done, your model gets reviewed for inclusion in Earth.

Unlike SketchUp, Building Maker runs inside your browser, so it's a little lighter to use. Buildings are easy to create, tools load quickly, and submission is painless. It's clear that Google intends this to be an everyman tool, not just a hobby for map-loving developers. If building takes off, Google could have its hands on a cache of the most detailed and comprehensive on earth—and all for free.