Thinking about Google's sale of SketchUp a little more I begun to realize what makes me uneasy about this parting of the ways. It's not just the change of ownership from a company whose ethos I admire to one I am a little less comfortable with, its the fact that I think SketchUp, and particularly here I'm thinking about the free version, matters, and especially matters to the heritage community. A threat to SketchUp is a threat to digital heritage in general and the democratization of the study of cultural heritage, the wrestling of heritage recording from the hands of the expert into a skilled community.
As an example, let me introduce you to the work of Tom Harvey. I don't know Tom, we've never met, although I've used his work, the freely offered fruit of his labour with SketchUp, especially his excellent Stonehenge model. But what marks Tom's work out as exceptional is his steady methodical effort to single handedly create a digital version of his home town of Leominster, using SketchUp and sharing the results in the 3D Warehouse and on Google Earth. This is digital heritage at its best, an authentic record of a community and its architecture at a point in time emerging from that community. And what is the catalyst, well I'd argue it is the democratizing influence of SketchUp, its ease of use, its zero cost, its accessibility. Meddle with that model and I fear that both the ethos that prompts the work of individuals like Tom and the ability to create it, vanishes.