Microsoft created a Google Earth like earth mapping tool four years before Google only to scrap it
Seeing your house from space was not something a normal person would want to do, they reasoned
Microsoft built a satellite imagery tool in 1990s only to dump it. This was revealed by Tom Barclay from Microsoft. As it happens, Microsoft built a vast one terabyte storage system called Terraserver in 1997. One of the components of Terraserver was first publicly available satellite imagery of the world. Essentially, Microsoft built Google Earth – four years ahead of Google.
However at that time, the Microsoft top honchos did not see any potential profit over hosting such a huge project on the nascent Terraserver system which went on to become a third party hosting platform. According to Motherboard, the Microsoft executives thought that seeing your house from space was not something a normal person would want to do.
“[T]he company didn’t care about the information [on Terraserver],” Tom Barclay, the man behind the project, told Motherboard. “Google was an information company first. They saw the value of the information.”
Terraserver, in its 1997 form, could have been Microsoft’s future, but the company chose to use it to host other people’s data and is now one of the biggest hosting companies in the world with tens of billions in revenue per year.
By contrast, Google used the information from launching Google Earth in 2001 to its advantage. It quickly became a part of Mail, Drive, and Search and went on to add millions to already swelling Google kitty.
“The very first demo we did, I chopped Bill Gates’s house in half, which was not very good,” Barclay told Motherboard. “In the first year, I got 20,000 emails, and the vast majority of them said one of two things: ‘I love Terraserver, I saw my house’ or ‘I hate Terraserver, I didn’t see my house.'”
You can read Motherboard’s full interview with Barclay here.