Saturday, September 16, 2006

Live Local

I've been using Live Local from Microsoft lately and I thought I'd write about a couple features that may be of interest to genealogists. In general, Live Local is similar to Google Maps. You can use it for viewing road maps, satellite photographs, and road maps superimposed on satellite photographs. Unlike Google Maps, Live Local provides a "bird's eye" view for selected locations. Bird's eye view uses photographs taken at an angle to show the facades of buildings and landmarks. They reveal a lot more detail than satellite photos.

Live Local also includes the ability to add "pushpins" to mark specific points of interest. Google Maps provides a similar capability, but as far as I can tell it is only available through Google Maps programming interface or applications built using that interface. With Live Local, it's a basic feature of the tool and is available to all users.

After you navigate to a particular location, you can save a permalink (permanent link) to the page. The zoom level, pushpins, etc., are all saved, so the link will recreate the current view. Use permalinks as bookmarks for yourself, or share them with other people.

There are a couple ways to save permalinks. I use the View permalink command in the Share menu near the top of the main window. You have to be careful to select all the text; if a view has lots of pushpins, the URL will be quite long.

Here are some example links.

Live Local permalinks may be of interest to Second Site users. You can add permalinks in event memos, or if you use the Place Index feature, you can add them as comments in place records. Here's an example of how to code a simple permalink:

[HID:][SS:]<a href="
Cemetery%20visible%20from%20street">Old Burial Field, Lancaster,
Massachusetts</a> - road view[:SS][:HID]

Note that I added carriage returns so that the URL would wrap to multiple lines. In an actual link, there should be no carriage returns, linefeeds, etc.

Finding places using the bird's eye view feature can be difficult sometimes, especially if you don't have an accurate address or if the location doesn't have a precise address. You can use latitude/longitude, but the Live Local user interface doesn't have latitude/longitude input fields. You have to use some other method of creating a Live Local URL.

Once you are in the right general location, you can drag the bird's eye image around, but you can't drag indefinitely. When you reach the edge, you have to click on a control which loads an adjacent area. Sometimes, the place you want to find is at the edge of an area, but loading the adjacent area doesn't show what you want because of vagaries of how the photographs relate to each other. If that happens, try using the direction control which loads an image of the same area but taken from another direction. The default direction is looking north, but quite often the best view of a landmark will be from another direction.

Bird's eye view is not 100% reliable. It may be due to the load on the Live Local servers, or who knows what, but sometimes Live Local says that bird's eye view is not available for a particular location even when I was looking at it moments before.

Don't let those little problems deter you. The bird's eye view and the pushpins make Live Local a great addition to your mapping toolkit.