KML: A new standard for sharing maps

Monday, April 14, 2008 at 10:00 AM



Google Earth and other similar tools have done much to bring mapping into the digital age. Nowadays we all take for granted that you can easily go online and map search results for pizza in your zip code or zoom into satellite imagery of a small town on the other side of the world.

However, the internet is about much more than just searching and viewing information. It's also about publishing. It wouldn't be what it is today without blogs, wikis, social networking sites, and other forms of user-generated content. The web is what makes all of this possible, and HTML is what makes the web possible -- a standard format that enables any web browser to view any web page. HTML's standardization was a very powerful thing. Rather than being locked up in a proprietary format, or only viewable using one specific vendor's product, web pages can be viewed and shared without encumbrance, for free.

This brings me to today's wonderful news: KML is now an international standard!

KML was originally created as a file format for Google Earth, allowing users to overlay their own content on top of our base maps and imagery. It's since become something much larger -- KML has become the HTML of geographic content, the dominant way to share user-created maps online. There are now tens of millions of KML files available online, hosted on more than 100,000 unique domain names. KML is supported by a large and growing number of vendors and products, and can no longer simply be described as Google Earth's file format. Because it has transcended Google Earth in scope, and even outgrown Google itself, we have decided to give it away.

Starting today, Google no longer controls KML. The Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), an international standards body, has announced the completion of KML's standardization process. KML has become an OGC Standard, and the OGC will take responsibility for maintaining and extending it. This transfer of ownership is a strong reflection of Google's commitment to open standards. Fundamentally, our interest is not to control information, but rather to encourage its spread.

When geographic content is easy to put online, everybody benefits. Just as HTML has benefited the world by enabling new forms of information sharing, we hope that KML will do the same for mapping.