Being able to zoom in on any location in the world using satellite imagery is one of the jaw-dropping wonders of the internet. The tool that enables this, Google Earth, has already been downloaded more than 100 million times, putting previously inaccessible geographical information in the hands of anyone with a broadband connection.
But the 'wow factor' is always offset by one small poser: what tangible benefits can be achieved? Apart from zooming in on your home (surely the first thing anyone does with Google Earth), seeing what world-famous landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House look like from the stars and a quick hunt for top-secret airfields in Middle East nations, the tool has provided most of us with few concrete benefits. Most people have found that Google Earth simply confirms our suspicions: planet Earth is really quite a large place and the likelihood of stumbling across something truly interesting, even with the benefit of satellite images, is low.
And so your best bet for getting something constructive out of Google Earth is to keep an eye on the partnerships the company signs with various commercial bodies. The most recent one, with British Airways, is a case in point. Visitors to BA's website can now view possible holiday destinations at the click of a button before taking up the airline's World Offers promotion. It's being promoted as the ideal way to check holiday spots before you book, allowing you to see how far your hotel is from the beach, for example.
The ability to take a sneak peak at holiday destinations is nothing seasoned Google Earth users couldn't have worked out for themselves, but it could draw a whole new audience to the tool. It also highlights the fact that Google isn't simply offering the product as a distracting influence to while away the hours of a long Friday afternoon at work.