Gigapans in Google Earth KML tours

I have incorporated some gigapans into Google Earth KML tours and tried three ways to share the tours with others: embedding, KML preview, and downloading.  There is not a clear winner. An earlier post has examples of all three methods.

A Google Earth KML (keyhole markup language) file can contain placemarks, paths, and polygons, but it can also include a tour in which recorded navigation movements (flying around) and an audio track can be played back. If a gigapan is included in a KML file which also includes a tour, the user can see where the gigapans are on the landscape and see previews of the gigapans. When the KML tour is stopped, clicking once on the gigapan icon (or the translucent panorama) opens a popup bubble with a thumbnail and the entire description from Double clicking on the gigapan icon (or translucent panorama) flies you into the panorama just as the “View in Google Earth 4.2+” link at does. The recorded KML tour itself cannot include flying into a gigapan; that part does not seem to play back properly.

Sharing a KML tour by embedding

To embed a KML tour on a Web page, record the tour in Google Earth and save its folder as a KMZ file (KMZ files are zip files which include the KML tour and additional content, like media files; change the extension to zip and open it to see what’s inside). Then use the Embed Tour Gadget to generate the embedding code and paste it into a Web page. You will have to know the URL of your KMZ file on your server. Anyone can then play the tour in a working instance of Google Earth. The Google Earth browser plugin must be installed on the user’s computer, but they do not need Google Earth. This is a great way to share tours, although they can be hard to appreciate when restricted to small embedded windows. Currently the tours built with the gadget do not work in Firefox, but a workaround is available. [Update 06/15/11: The tours are reported to work in Firefox now.] The workaround is implemented on these pages. When the embedded tour is stopped, you can click on a gigapan icon to see the popup bubble, but the “Enter Panorama” link in that bubble does not seem to work. Also, clicking the “Panorama at” link will open inside the embed window, which can be like watching Avatar on an iPhone.

Sharing a KML tour via KML preview

To allow users to see your tour in a full browser window, you can use the kmlpreview function of the Google Earth API. Like embedded tours, this requires the Google Earth browser plugin, but not Google Earth. I don’t know of a gadget which will build the URL for you but you can insert the location of your KMZ file and then use the following string as a URL:


It’s a great improvement over embedding because the tour can play full screen, which means that the gigapans can be viewed full screen. However, if you fly into a gigapan (after the recorded tour is stopped), the “Exit Photo” button is mostly hidden under the “Map/Earth/Terrain” buttons at the top right of the window. So there is no obvious way to exit the gigapan. If you know where to look, you can find the edge of the button and click it, but most users will be trapped. As in embedded tours, the “Enter Panorama” link in the gigapan popup bubble does not work, but other links in the bubble open in the full browser tab.

Download the KMZ and play the tour in Google Earth

If users have Google Earth installed, they can download your KMZ file from your Web page and open it in Google Earth. They will then have to navigate to the tour in the folder under “Temporary Places,” and play that tour. This step requires some familiarity with Google Earth. Overcoming that hurdle will allow the tour to play full screen, and will allow full functionality of viewing gigapans (after the tour is stopped). In this option the “Enter Panorama” link in the popup works, and the “Exit Photo” button in the viewer is fully visible. Most importantly, the placemarks, paths, and polygons included in your KMZ file will be displayed behind the gigapans. If the transparency of the gigapan is adjusted (this can only be done in Google Earth; use the slider in the Places sidebar) the drawn features can be seen overlain on the gigapan. This has great potential to create some interesting context for the gigapans.

I have tested the above methods in IE, Firefox, and Chrome, but not Safari, etc.

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