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3D geomapping company Earthmine lets you 'tag' buildings

Earthmine maps your street in three dimensions, and now lets you paint pictures on it as well. Why?

Earthmine, a serious geomapping company I first covered back in 2007, is launching a completely ridiculous demo site Wednesday called Wild Style City, which allows users to paint graffiti on buildings it has mapped in San Francisco. The launch is happening at the Where 2.0 conference in San Jose, Calif.

The Flash app lets you navigate a street-view level of San Francisco, and tag (in the graffiti sense) certain buildings, in certain places, with paintbrush, marker, and roller tools. Then people who come after you also see your tags.

It's silly, but illustrates the technology Earthmine offers does more than just collect street-view panoramas and stick them on a flat map. Earthmine, Chief Strategy Officer Paul Smith tells me, maps every pixel on every image in three dimensions, using technology licensed from Caltech. (Geogeek cred: It's the same core technology they use to organized imagery from the Mars rovers, Smith says.)

The fact that every pixel is mapped means that as you jump between panorama views, the annotations (or gang signs, or advertisements) painted onto a building on one also show up on the other. It's a more seamless experience of the data.

Earthmine's Wild Style City lets you tag San Francisco buildings. Screenshot by Rafe Needleman/CNET

Earthmine's data set theoretically will allow the company to create real 3D maps of cities, not just collections of stitched-together panoramas. The capability to slew through street view data, as opposed to jumping through pictures, as is offered now, is a bit of a way off. It requires serious computational resources and the company is still building its revenue stream with what it has.

Mobile versions are also coming. The augmented-reality view of Wild Style City, in which a user need only hold up a smart phone to a building to see how other users have tagged it, will not be shown until the Earthmine geolocation API for the iPhone comes out later in the summer.

One snag with the mobile plans: bandwidth. I talked with execs at Nokia briefly about Earthmine, and was told that the current mobile data networks, which are already overloaded, don't have the capacity to deliver rich street-level data to all the world's smartphone at once. (That's the way Nokia thinks--if it doesn't scale to 6 billion handsets, they have limited interest.) Furthermore, Nokia believes that what users need are smart maps that tell them what they should be looking at, not pictures of everything at once.

Earthmine isn't just about mapping pictures, though. It makes money by selling its 3D geomapping tools that can be used for cataloging public resources (trees, fire hydrants, driveways, etc.), and for creating geo apps that aren't necessarily Google Maps competitors. Wild Style City is just a demo. Target customers include global governments, local emergency and city planning agencies, and anyone who wants to make their own consumer-facing street view or virtual reality application. Earthmine's tools, and its fully three-dimensional database, set it apart.