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Google Earth Outreach Zooms In on Global Problems

Google launched a new program Tuesday that’s designed to help nonprofit organizations around the world illustrate and share the work they do. Called “Google Earth Outreach,” the program helps organizations get the resources, software and training they need to create compelling stories through Google Earth layers.

Google Earth is a free mapping and satellite photo application that lets users fly around a virtual globe and zoom in on images of any location on the surface of the world. While it’s handy for navigating cities and checking out the roof of your own home, it also comes in a US$400 Pro version that has sophisticated tools for building maps and layers, and adding detailed information and multimedia.

Google’s first large-scale move in this philanthropic direction came in April, when it activated a “Crisis in Darfur” layer within the Google Earth application. The Darfur layer, which the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum created, shows icons that indicate villages that have been burned in that region and provides photos, video and eyewitness testimony of the tragedy caused by Janjaweed militia and Sudanese forces in the region.

Many More Layers to Come

“Our goal with Google Earth Outreach is to help public service organizations worldwide leverage our mapping technology to further their goals by providing tailored technical guidance and grants,” said John Hanke, director of Google Earth & Maps.

“Now any organization can quickly and easily annotate Google Earth with pictures, video and information to tell visual, compelling stories of the work they do to over 200 million Google Earth users,” he said.

Several organizations have already created specialized layers and maps, including the United Nations Environment Program, which has created an atlas of the world’s changing environment that it designed to draw attention to environmental hot spots.

Other organizations include Appalachian Voices, which shows the impact of mountaintop removal due to to coal mining; Neighbors Against Irresponsible Logging, which shows a Santa Cruz Mountain logging proposal; and the Jane Goodall Institute, which has produced layers to help conserve the Greater Gombe ecosystem.

Lots of Support

“I think it’s a really wonderful thing that Google’s doing. The amount of aid and help that these folks are giving to nonprofit organizations is really tremendous,” Frank Taylor, a Google Earth expert and author of the Google Earth Blog, told TechNewsWorld.

The Google Earth Outreach site includes step-by-step video tutorials for creating layers using Keyhole Markup Language (KML) for Google Earth, as well as case studies, comprehensive online guides and online forums actively moderated by Google Earth Outreach staff.

“What they are doing with this outreach program that’s really cool is that they aren’t just saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to help folks out who meet our criteria,'” Taylor explained. “But Google is also saying they are going to help organizations do things better — to take advantage of Google Earth in ways that will help enhance the results, the return and the power of the visualization that it creates.”

Organizations can also apply online for Google Earth Pro grants, in which grantees will receive additional technical support from Google.

Revealing the World

The Showcase element of Google’s program features an online gallery of the most compelling new layers — a subset of which will be featured in the Global Awareness folder in Google Earth on a rotating basis.

Currently, Google says there have been 250 million downloads of Google Earth.

“The kind of exposure organizations are getting through Google Earth, and through the power of Google’s brand is just fantastic exposure for most nonprofit organizations, which rarely have the kind of budget necessary to get the attention they really deserve for their noble causes,” Taylor noted.

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