Google Earth + sketchup = non avatar based metaverse?

Seen last month in CNN Money, this article describes how the through the combination of satellite maps and 3-D software (the 3D modeling program SketchUp), Google Earth is turning into a virtual online playground. Some excerpts I found interesting below. It starts like the Second Life crazyness:

You can already download user-generated layers that sit on top of Google's 3-D Earth and show you, for example, the location of celebrity houses or hiking trails or famous landmarks. One dating service has even started showing people looking for partners as a Google Earth layer. Real estate companies have started showing off virtual versions of their buildings (for sale in the real world) on Google Earth. SketchUp allows them to build entire models of their apartments, right down to the microwave oven.

And the more interesting stuff is coming along:

The result could be that we'll soon populate a virtual version of planet Earth instead of the made-from-scratch metaverses like online games or Second Life. The main element Google Earth is missing today is avatars (...) "I would expect to see someone using Google Earth as a virtual social space by the end of the year," says Jerry Paffendorf, research director of the Acceleration Studies Foundation

Then the article starts describing how the Web can become a 3D metaverse-like environment with blabla and stuff that I am still dubious about. Why do I b log this? Even though I am not very enthusiastic about the whole article there are some relevant stuff here. Of course, stories such "Consumers could fly into the virtual New York, go shopping in a virtual Times Square, get past the velvet rope at a virtual Studio 54 and chat with an avatar dressed as Andy Warhol" always get my hackles up. The journalist seems to stretch out a bit his conclusions. IMO what is interesting with google earth and sketchup is the creativity it allows not that it can be the basis for the future of the web. This said, I additionally think it's very interesting to have a non-avatar based virtual environment; it's indeed a model on which interesting things could be done (though I feel like some avatar will pop up at some point).