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Googling Earth

Zooming into a 3-D New York, it looks like a would-be Spiderman set. But it's part of Google Earth's push to entice real estate execs and others to use satellite imagery and 3-D overlays with a click of a mouse.

From there, the sky's the limit.

The subscription-based service, which also offers a free version with fewer features, enables users to zoom in from a larger view (like below) to inspect infill sites, overlay roads, import site plans and check out competitors' sites.

It spun a web of interest at the ICSC meeting in May, and another in Orlando in August.

“It's a cool thing,” says Kate Dabney, real estate manager at Ohio-based North American Properties' Atlanta office. Dabney says she got an e-mail from the company's CFO — at the Orlando meeting — who asked her to check out Google Earth's relaunched service.

The verdict?

“It's user-friendly,” she says, after downloading a free version. “It's easy and quick-moving. It puts the whole world at your fingertips.”

That's exactly the point, says John Hanke, general manager of Keyhole Corp., which was acquired by Google last year.

Hanke says different levels of Google Earth carry a variety of prices. But the most useful version, still in the Beta test phase, costs $400 a year for PC users. A Mac version is coming out “soon.”

So far, Hanke, who wouldn't provide customers' names, claims several national mall developers are using the service. That's in addition to the hundreds of other users in real estate, he adds.

Hanke says he had an “a-ha” moment when he saw people learning how to fly airplanes with 3-D flight simulators. Versions from Yahoo and Microsoft are also available.

But there are drawbacks to all three services.

“Often you find that the images are dated,” says Scott Schroeder, vice president of marketing and communications at Cleveland-based Developers Diversified Realty.

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