Many people are familiar with Google Earth and others may use Microsoft Virtual Earth but Paul Neave (who describes himself as a “serial flash fettler and interactive designer”) has produced a great mash-up of zoomable images from all the major aerial and satellite photograph providers called Flash Earth (alongside some other cool stuff on his website).
One of Flash Earth’s strengths is the ability to switch between services on the fly as I’ve found that some services have better images than others (e.g. Microsoft gets closer to my home, but Google has higher resolution images of some neighbouring towns). Best of all, although Google Earth and competing products have additional functionality (for example, 3D viewpoints), Flash Earth doesn’t require any client software (aside from the Adobe Flash Player, which is a common browser plug-in) – of course, Windows Live Local offers a similar service, without using Flash and including additional functionality, but it is limited to the Microsoft mapping and imaging data.
It’s also worth noting that the images served by these services are not completely up-to-date. Based on new developments where I live and work, I’m guessing that the aerial data which Ask, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! serve is approximately 4-7 years old (which service is more recent does vary though, according to the area being viewed) but Microsoft’s mapping data is more current than their images, which results in some interesting roads shown across fields in the hybrid view!
I should add that this blog post comes with a warning – browsing the planet looking at aerial photographs can lead to many wasted hours (and much lost sleep)… as I found to my own detriment last night!