Friday, July 27, 2007
The Google Earth Community (aka BBS) is a geographical repository created by over 850,000 local experts who are as diverse and interesting as the places they post about. Being a member requires no mapping training, just the desire to explore. It's the urge to discover and communicate with others that makes the Google Earth Community such a valuable resource, and its ability to influence people's geographical awareness encourages these everyday users to create innovative and fascinating stories of our planet.
The "Biography of Neil Armstrong" is a prime example of the way people tell those stories. Their annotations of the planet demonstrate that part of geographically organizing the world's information involves not only collecting the best mapping data sets, but also providing a geographical context for the information displayed.
Thousands of placemarks created by users form a significant part of Google Earth's layers. These represent different languages, opinions, and cultural backgrounds that all come together in an integrated "geo-browser." You can view them by turning on the "Google Earth Community" layer and "Geographic Web."
The Google Earth Community has a wide diversity of people that interact with each other daily. While some have a background in GIS, many do not -- and they are not what you would think of as "typical GIS users." For example, a French artist used Google Earth to display her works of art. She made the point to me that, while she may not have the professional reputation of some other artists yet, her ability to create a Google Earth file and show it on the community has boosted awareness of her work. And any description of the Google Earth Community is incomplete without mentioning the dedicated team of moderators who monitor posts, assist members and create a welcoming atmosphere for the inhabitants to construct.
The ability to share discoveries is part of indulging our natural curiosity. Last year, a user called 'earthling_andre' noticed what appeared to be a burning ship off the coast of Iceland. With the desire to know stimulated, members shared their research and opinions. By a stroke of luck, one member was able to help significantly. Why? Because he was the captain of the rescue vessel.
Aircraft in Flight (Aircraft that have been captured in flight by the imaging satellites and aerial photograph providers) is another great source of discovery. Every day, hundreds of planes captured in flight are found, posted, and collected. My favourite is this one of a C-5 Galaxy being refuelled by a KC-135 Stratotanker.
The BBS also acts as a portal for scientists, organizations, and developers to share their current work. Examples include the palaeogeology of Earth, the effects of Gas Drilling and for a bit of fun, we have bouncing globes and rocket racers.
And the Google Earth Community is just a small part of a much broader "Geographical Community." Anyone with Google Earth can annotate, inform, and shape the world by creating and posting a KML / KMZ (the file format used in Google Earth) to any website. With features such as Geo Search now available, great content can be indexed and searched no matter where it resides.