When Microsoft launched its Live Local/Virtual Earth 3-D platform earlier this week, the memorable quote from Virtual Earth GM Stephen Lawler was, "It's the beginning of the 3-D Web." As a factual matter that statement may not be entirely accurate, but symbolically it is.

Numerous companies, such as Planet 9 Studios, have been working on 3-D modeling for a long time. Then, of course, there's Second Life and MTV's Virtual Laguna Beach. Now comes 3B, which allows users to create their own personalized 3-D "villages." There's also the world of avatars, which is growing.

In the larger context of online trends, we're seeing the rise of more imagery and visual information initially exemplified by Flickr and more recently by online video and YouTube. Sharing and community are integral to these experiences.

Microsoft acquired Vexcel for, among other things, the company's capacity to do automated 3-D rendering. Vexcel CEO John Curlander said that the company is rendering eight cities a month, moving quickly to 16. Accordingly, the Virtual Earth 3-D platform will have well over 100 cities by the end of Q2 next year. By contrast, Google is letting the community build 3-D models, which is proceeding steadily according to Google Earth GM John Hanke. Also, Google has a way to rate/rank the best and most detailed models, among duplicates, for maximum quality ("model complexity.")

You can bet that Google will be accelerating the development of these 3-D models for Earth.

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