5.4 Where now for the use of Google Earth in archaeology?

Previous studies have already indicated that the creative use of alternative virtual applications can increase the public understanding of archaeological sites (Ch'ng et al. 2013; Landeschi and Carrozzino 2011). The distinct advantage of Google Earth over other software is that it has become mainstream, free to use, readily available, and accessed by millions. In addition, whether from large-scale research projects, or small local investigations, all archaeological information contains a spatial context. The geospatial nature of Google Earth therefore provides an excellent platform to enable creative applications where this information can be disseminated within an interactive context that users can relate and engage with.

An alternative mode of engagement might be seen to be social media feeds and blogs. While it is relatively simple, quick, and convenient to post content to a feed using conventional and mobile platforms, the information can be transient and potentially disconnected. In contrast, the very nature of Google Earth provides a way in which to aggregate and impart content in a more united way. Moving forward, advances in technology will also almost inevitably enable us to do more with the software. For example, it is now feasible to bring 3D models into the software that have been created in structure from motion applications, although currently it takes considerable effort to do so.

Time has been identified as a serious limiting factor in the development of any future Google Earth applications (see section 5.1). The perception that greater 'technological literacy' is needed than is actually required may also potentially combine with this to negative effect. In contrast to these difficulties, of considerable interest will be how the rise in community-based archaeology, and synergistic 'citizen science' might perhaps have a positive impact on the uptake in the use of this software in archaeology. Many new projects have recently come on stream that aim to collate yet more digital data through community involvement, for example the recent development of MicroPasts.