Microsoft Virtual Earth now accepting DIY aerial imagery

Cool news from Microsoft: its Google Earth competitor, Virtual Earth, is now accepting user-generated aerial imagery. Unlike Google Earth, where your own data can only be superimposed on the "real" Google Earth data, and people will only see it if they use a special URL, Microsoft is offering to integrate user-submitted data in the core data set. For DIY Drones and our RC aerial photography cousins, that means a great way to share our imagery in a maps context that can be appreciated by everyone, not just those with special software and the right URL.

Here's an excerpt from the Virtual Earth blog:

What’s the process for getting my data in VE?

· First, evaluate whether your imagery enhances our currently available data by seeing what we have online at If your imagery is newer and has higher resolution than what we have online, then we should talk. So,

· Send us an email at and tell us what you have. If we’re not planning an update on that area in the next few months, there’s a good chance we’re interested. If so, we’ll send you a copy of our specification.

· Review the spec against your data and send us a short summary of the exceptions. Many times we can work around small exceptions to the spec, so send us an email and we’ll see what we can do. We may need a data sample . If the imagery meets the spec, we’ll send you a data release.

· Sign the data release and return it to us. The terms of our release are non-negotiable because we have thousands of data sets in VE and we must treat all of our data sources equally. The data release gives us the right to publish your data under the standard terms of our VE portal.

· Contact us for delivery logistics. We’ve found it easiest to put the data on an external hard drive and ship it. When we receive it, we’ll put it in the queue for processing and mosaicking, ingesting and incorporating into the next release.

How long does it take for my data to show up in VE?

It depends upon many factors, including the amount of pre-processing, custom tiling, timing of the next release, other data in the queue, etc. Typically, from the time we receive the data, it takes from 1-3 months for the data to be published online.

Can I provide partial updates to the imagery?

We prefer data updates in larger chunks, since each update requires edge-matching to the existing online imagery. However, if special circumstances arise where a partial update is merited, we’ll work with you to accomplish this.

How will you use my data?

Virtual Earth provides free, open access to imagery, maps, points of interest, business listings, etc. Most of our web site viewers use the site and it’s location awareness tools (search, driving directions, imagery , etc.) to get more information on their local environment. The public web site is free. Your data would become part of the Virtual Earth API which developers can leverage in creating their own web sites.

Will you give us credits for the use of our imagery?

As a rule of thumb, yes. VE seeks to provides credits and attribution for all of our data sources, and we’ll strive to do the same for your data. However, in some cases, there can be as many as 5-7 data sources on the screen at once, so we sometimes have to pare the credits down to the top sources on the page to avoid onscreen “credit clutter.”

If you're interested in sharing your imagery with the Virtual Earth platform, let me know or send mail to

Views: 331

Comment by Jeffrey Johnson on June 23, 2008 at 9:40pm
I suspect that 'free and open' means one thing to Microsoft, and quite another thing to those of us that participate in this group.

Check out a post about this from James Fee

I think that OpenAerialMap is a FAR! better place for the type of DIY imagery that we as amateur UAV operators produce, and I am happy to help anyone who wants to try to do such a thing.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on June 23, 2008 at 9:56pm

I agree with your concerns, but I don't think that OpenAerialMap is the answer for most people. The main problem for me is that its satellite data res if far lower than either Microsoft or Google. Your own Googleplex upload is a perfect example: it looks great, but everything around it looks terrible!

Microsoft and Google may be restrictive about access, but your data remains your data, and you're free to submit it to as many places as you want.
Comment by Jeffrey Johnson on June 23, 2008 at 11:07pm
The problem I have with Google and MS data is that the vast majority of data in their archives was funded with taxpayer money, usually by local, county and state governments. Which makes it kind of ridiculous when we are faced with such onerous restrictions on our use of such data in our applications.

As for the quality of base data in OAM: I agree that its pretty sparse. The framework exists for it to be populated with more data, but the project lacks the $100s of Millions of $s that MS and Google have spent on their archives. The idea is that these governments should have a place publish their data into a distributed archive that is actually 'freely and openly' available to application developers. As I have suggested before, check into the similar situation that exists with Navteq, Teleatlas and OSM, and note that google now has their own 'Map Maker' app.

The problem is that if Google and Microsoft have absolute control over the largest imagery archives in the world which have been funded by taxpayer $, then we are beholden to them when we want to use it. I for one, don't like being in this position. Consider that in many countries, geospatial data is simply not available to 'normal' people, and as such there is no thriving ecosystem of developers, gis professionals etc as we have here in the US.

So, yes you can publish your DIY data in any place you want, just like I can grab government sources of data and publish them into OAM, and now into VE. It's the restrictions on access and use that I am concerned about.
Comment by Jack Crossfire on June 24, 2008 at 4:51pm
They're emphasizing government agencies & corporate imagery. You won't be seeing love notes & your $10 million garden shed addition on it. No Linux support of course. It's a lot like IE for Solaris, before Netscape went out of business.
Comment by Jeffrey Johnson on June 24, 2008 at 4:54pm
Jack, VE imagery works just fine in Firefox for Linux and other Unixes. Just not all the fancy 3D stuff.
Comment by Jack Crossfire on June 24, 2008 at 5:50pm
This is Virtual Earth, not Visual Earth.
Comment by Jeffrey Johnson on June 24, 2008 at 5:59pm
Yep, Imagery from the Virtual Earth repository can easily be viewed on Linux platforms with various tools ... including the Mozilla Web Browser.
Comment by Jeffrey Johnson on June 24, 2008 at 6:08pm
Somebody on another blog asked what what so onerous about Microsoft's Terms of Services. Check here for yourself to find out ...
Comment by MattTay on June 26, 2008 at 7:34pm
Terraserver is pretty good, and doesn't have the heavy-handed terms of service that google and microsoft have. It also supports several web service interfaces and has always been very fast for me when using the webapp interfaces.
Comment by curt westergard on July 5, 2008 at 7:50pm
We produce full 360 degree spherical panoramas above many cities with our tethered surveillance aerostat balloon. The resolution is very very good and it is an exciting QTVR format with no blind spots. See or airphotoslive. Jeff, Jack and Chris, when we were invited to Google and showed them our current, color 3d images they insisted we would provide miles and miles of sequential, stitched images. They did not see the value of one point of view. We spoke with Microsoft Research, and they were only interested in gigapixel panoramics. We had this but because we shoot with clusters of cameras under a unmanned balloon our resulting images had occasional gaps.
Current, high resolution, singular point of view spherical QTVR aerials are fantastic ways to view the earth or events--wish GE and MS folks would realize this.


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