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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