Google Inc.'s Michael Jones likes to take pictures with a super high-resolution camera like those used on spy planes during the Cold War.
His fascination is not to monitor military camps but to shoot photos so detailed he can spot, from miles away, a cozy Japanese noodle shop to have lunch in.
Jones' obsession is mirrored in his work. He is the Chief Technology Officer of Google Earth, a product used by 100 million people that combines satellite images, maps and local data to display geographical information of the world.
Seeing your home is usually the first thing people do, Jones told Reuters in an interview in Tokyo. As we add more local data, like hotels, there's a second wave of interest from those who want to use this in useful ways, like plan trips.
Google, the world's biggest Web search engine, has launched Google Earth in different languages including Japanese, French, Italian, German and Spanish. Jones is a great fan of Japan.
It's not just translating, said Bruno Bowden, a Google Earth engineer who spent the past year preparing the Japanese-language product which was launched this week.
It takes great effort to license all the local data and figure out how people might want to view it, Bowden explained.
Jones said Google is gathering country data to offer more localized editions. He also said the amount of data updated to the Google Earth database is rising.
It's starting to become, typically, one country a month, said Jones. In a recent update, Google Earth added high-resolution images of the entire Netherlands, he said.
Jones was the co-founder of KeyHole Inc., which developed what later became Google Earth. Mountain View, California-based Google bought the company in 2004.
Jones, who has more than 100 engineers working on his team that also develop Google Maps, said local advertisement can make the geographical data much more useful.
There are several tens of billions of dollars in revenue available for local advertisement, Jones said. I will be really proud to see more advertisement on Google Maps and Google Earth. Wouldn't it be great if you could look up locations of hotels, and also get a list of top five-rated ones?
The engineers at Google, which generates almost all of its $6 billion revenue from advertisement, work with a concept.
We have to imagine if we had a button to turn all the advertisement off -- we would never want to turn it off. The advertisement has to be that good for the users, he said.
In the United States, Google has tied up with Valpak, the country's No. 1 coupon supplier, to provide offers to users of Google Maps and local directory services.
Microsoft Corp., the software giant, also offers a similar product called MSN Virtual Earth. The two rivals are racing to add new technology and services.
Google Earth covers a third of the world's population in high-resolution imagery, which is detailed enough to show cars. The database, which gets updated every month, also offers 3D images of buildings and tracks geographical changes over time.
Recently, many media reported on concerns raised by officials in countries such as India and Thailand that detailed satellite pictures on Google Earth may be a risk to national security.
There are countries where information hasn't been freely available. And to those countries, I imagine the idea of other countries' satellites taking pictures of them from outer space is very uncomfortable. That would be China, former Soviet Union and possibly North Korea, Jones said.
Jones explained that satellite photography is regulated by international treaties and isn't restricted by borders. But he added countries restrict the quality of the images taken by commercial satellite companies, which sell data to Google.
Commercial pictures have been available for a long time, but people's awareness as well as the number of people who use them has increased. That's the difference, Bowden added.
On the other hand, Google is helping governments and many other international organizations with a product called Google Earth for Enterprise, which let experts take their own data and organize and analyze it themselves.
People come to us looking for information and they want to understand it, Jones said.
A map can show you what you're looking for and put it in context. That very sense of place is everything Google Earth is about.