Google Earth Outreach

Rebecca Moore at Google outreach launch in Hamburg I’m in Hamburg for the launch of a new Greenpeace information layer as part of the Google Earth Outreach program.

Rebecca Moore is presenting — she was among the folks who started the program last year in the US as a means to get non-profits, charities, and environmental groups using the Google Earth platform to promote their work — and the program has been successful enough that it now is expanding to Europe.

Rebecca says: “Most people know Google Earth as a fun recreational tour. They fly over their house, they look at potential vacation spots, and that’s where it ends, for many of them. When Keyhole created the platform, it was actually only intended to be the ultimate backdrop for game platforms. But Google Earth came into its own as a really useful tool during the Katrina hurricane in the US, where Google was able to provide near-time flood maps which some have said saved up to 4,000 lives, and that’s when the possibility of really using this tool to help the planet took root for some of us.”

Rebecca’s presentation is on some of the ways that Google Earth and Google Outreach have done more than provide all of us with an Apollo 11 perspective for planetary voyeurism.

First, there’s discovery: she tells the story of a guy the press is calling a “Desktop Darwin” who discovered a fringing coral reef in Australia when browsing Google Earth — an oceanic discovery made possible by just having a really good virtual representation of the planet.

There was science: an amazing time-based animation of outbreaks of bird flu around the world, created by a reporter from Nature from a mashup of medical data on individual cases.

And then my favourite, activism: the Appalachian Mountaintop Removal project, which brings the blasting away of entire moutaintops to mine coal to life, through a shocking series of before and after images and video and stories of how the destruction of these mountains have destroyed the lives of local people. The group started with 2 signatures on their petition. The day after they launched their Google Earth layer, they had 13,000 signatures. Probaby helped quite a bit that Robert F. Kennedy blogged it in the Huffington Post, saying “every American ought to take a few seconds to visit an ingenious new website created by Appalachian Voices, that allows one to tour the obliterated landscapes of Appalachia.”

The Greenpeace Layer is launching in German and English with data points about Climate and Forests — here in Hamburg it has been introduced by our biodiversity campaigner Ollie, just back from the Congo, where he witnessed first hand some of the destruction which, well, you too can now witness first hand by jumping into the Greenpeace Google Earth layer. We’ve built only a starter set of data so far, with plans to expand over the coming months to information about all our campaigns, Greenpeace’s history, and our national offices.

David Rothschild at Google Outreach launch in Hamburg David de Rothschild appeared by video from London, talking about how he became an activist, something he calls Nature Deficiency Syndrome, Greenpeace’s report on plastics in the ocean, and how Google Earth can get the word out about ocean pollution its 3.5 million users by tracking his Kon Tiki-like expedition later this year — in a raft made of used plastic bottles called Plas-Tiki — across the Pacific.

But the star of the show for me was Rebecca, who describes herself as a raging environmentalist, and started Google Outreach as her “20% project” — that magic policy that allows Google engineers to work on a crazy idea one day a week. Good for her — she’s done a great thing.

One of the greatest results of this project is a set of tutorials designed specifically for NGOs on the basis of their feedback about using the tool and building maps. If you’ve ever hand-coded a Google Earth KML file, as I did a few years back when we created a layer called “Squiddy’s 100 Amazing Ocean facts,” you know that it’s not a pretty process. Google have now turned Google Spreadsheets into an effective content management system for Google Maps and Google Earth, and laid out a great set of tips for what to do, and what not to do, in creating content for Maps & Earth. Wish I’d had this three years ago!

I blogged further on this topic at the Greenpeace weblog.

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