Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Google Goes 3D...


Okay, admittedly this is a little inside baseball, but what the hell. I shant be criticized for commenting on my own profession from time to time. I like to think I'm politically attuned... but, not obsessed. That being said, I just received a head's up from a colleague that the world's most popular digital search engine (/memory hole) had acquired one of the most popular architectural modeling platforms.

From, Tuesday, Google acquires SketchUp.

@Last Software today announced that it has been acquired by Google. The company is reassuring users that it will continue on the path it was previously traversing to help 3D architects, builders, woodworkers, gamers, and students. The SketchUpteam got to know some Google employees while they were developing the Google Earth Plugin for SketchUp, which ultimately led to the acquisition. "This is one of those wonderful win-win situations; it would have been impossible for us to feel good about this acquisition if we didn't feel our culture, our users and our mission would be in good hands." Google's resources will allow SketchUp to serve its current users better, and Google's reach will allow the company to expose many more people to its 3D software. "'3D for Everyone' is becoming a reality; we're bringing the '3D' part; Google's contributing the 'Everyone.'"

This is quite interesting, although I don't yet know for what reason. Two of the heaviest hitters in the 3D modeling world have been traditionally, AutoDesk (The IBM of digital design), and AutoDesSys (The Howard Roark of 3D modeling). Autodesk offers products like AutoCad, 3D Studio Viz, Lightscape, Maya, Revit and an array of other tools and services. AutoDesSys offering Form Z, has pioneered the field of 3d modelling since the early 90's silently guiding the industry in its wake. Other tools have since entered the realm, like Rhino, and assorted proprietary platforms, each offering their own unique approach to 3d design. Yet, Sketch Up has seemingly surpassed them all making a tremendous leap in popularity in recent years for its ease of use and relative affordability. It is now arguably among the most pervasive 3D modeling tools in architectural design, despite being little more than a clumsy version of Form Z.

So, the question is, what does Google want with such a platform? Where do they intend to take this new vehicle? Or where do they hope it will take them?

This statement from Sketch-Up's Weblog offers a littel clarification from their end...

WHAT'S NEW? Well, about the biggest thing ever: we’ve been Googled. That’s right, Google Inc. has acquired @Last Software… so you might have just spit your coffee all over your keyboard, or you’re rolling your eyes thinking this is another one of my April Fool’s jokes. Believe me, we’re still having a hard time believing it ourselves, but it’s real — we are now Google!

WHAT??! Wow…where to start? You have to be wondering what this means for SketchUp. Are we going to give up on design and all the cool new features and products we have in the pipeline? No way! In fact, the mission doesn’t change at all. We’re all about enabling users to express themselves in 3D and share their vision with others. Architects, builders, woodworkers, gamers, students and my
Uncle Bob all want basically the same thing: the most intuitive tools to help them create and share their 3D dreams. So we’ll stay the course. (Only now we have just a smidge more horsepower...)I can't stress this enough: the 3D world just got a huge boost, so please don't worry about SketchUp or our mission. Think about it this way: we haven't traded in the Honda for a Porsche; we've strapped a rocket to the Honda. SketchUp is still SketchUp, but now it will go places it couldn't possibly have gone before.

Oh the Places it will go! But, where? And Why?

It seems like an odd diversion for them, does it not? Why would the internet giant be interested in 3D digital modeling for architecture, industrial design and gaming… unless they have zeroed in on an as yet unrecognized trend in the realm of information exchange. Google had recently acquired a large tract of land east of Portland, deep in the Gorge in a town called The Dalles. There they intend to build a new research campus, here in the pacific northwest. Might Google see Microsoft in the same way that Microsoft saw IBM in the 80’s? And if so, what does a popular yet up and coming 3D modeling platform have to do with that vision?

Speculation is welcome... if not encouraged.

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