French Unveil Own Answer to Google Earth; Site Quickly Swamped

A clear view of your favorite French beach or monument is only a click away.

France unveiled a Web site ( on Friday that allows people to access detailed satellite images of the country and said it offered more detail of its territory than Google Earth (

[As of Monday morning in New York, the French site was down, replaced by a notice that "many millions of connections" had overwhelmed the site.]

Google Earth, which allows Internet users to zoom in on locations around the world, caused concern when it was launched last year among governments who feared terrorists might use the service to help plot attacks.

But President Jacques Chirac stressed the need for France to have such a site, which will allow Internet users to view aerial photos and maps, saying the state had to be at the cutting edge of modern technology.

"It is also a case of economics," Chirac was quoted by his office as saying during a presentation of the new portal, which is a joint project by the National Geographic Institute and the Office of Geological and Mineral Research.

"With Galileo [the European Union satellite navigation system), with the mobile telephone, services linked to global positioning will develop a lot. It is als] about democracy because our citizens have the right to know all the facts about the environment."