Since it was introduced about 3 years ago, we've seen a broad range of uses for Google Earth -- from potentially life-saving (Cyclone Nargis disaster response planning) to educational (Rumsey historical maps) and, of course, to entertaining (the number of downloads of the new Nine Inch Nails album around the world).

We've also seen interest in and usage of Google Earth grow as people find even more new and interesting ways to convey information in its geographic context through the Google Earth. 

We're constantly working to fine-tune the Google Earth experience to provide the most useful geographically organized content for all of our users.  Yet I often get questions from friends and family about what they're seeing in Google Earth and how to best explore all that one can find there.  I'm sure many users ask themselves these very questions when they first launch Google Earth.  

With that in mind, I thought these pointers might be helpful:

  • Controlling what you see in Google Earth
    To present information in Google Earth, a file format called KML is used to display data in a geographic context. Groups and individuals can create KML files which appear as "layers" on top of the satellite and aerial imagery that form the base layer in Google Earth. 

    After you launch Google Earth, you'll see a sampling of these layers.  This is a preview of the range of content available in the product. To turn particular layers on and off, just go to the "Layers" panel in the left navigation window, click the "+" sign to expand a given list and check or uncheck the box for a layer.

  • Understanding what content comes from Google
    We've heard that users sometimes are confused as to what information in Google Earth is supplied by Google and what is provided by users, organizations, or other third parties.  Google supplies a base of information in Google Earth through our licenses with content partners; this includes information for borders, terrain, roads, business listings, weather, and traffic.  

    Separate layers, which appear on top of this base information, feature educational and informational content from third parties such as National Geographic, NASA and The New York Times.  Each of these layers has its own icon (such as the familiar yellow rectangle for National Geographic), which is displayed in connection with the content when the layer is checked on.  Layers for content created and submitted by users of certain other Google services, including YouTube, Panoramio, and the Google Earth Community, also appear on top of the base information.

    Certain layers will automatically be turned on when you open Google Earth.  With all the interesting content out there, we thought this would help users discover new content from any of these third-party sources.  You can turn these layers on or off by following the instructions above.

  • Creating content for Google Earth
    Google Earth is not just for browsing information supplied by others.  Users can join the Google Earth Community and contribute their own content.  This is incredibly powerful because it allows users to share their expertise and knowledge with the millions of people who use Google Earth.

    To get started, create an account in the Google Earth Community.  This allows you to participate in discussions about content that your fellow users may have added to Earth.  Next, go to the location where you'd like to post information and check out this tutorial video.

    After you have created a placemark, you can easily share it with others on the Google Earth Community. Just right click (CTRL click on the Mac) on the placemark and chooseShare/Post.  Just follow the subsequent instructions to post information about this placemark in the Google Earth Community.  The Google Earth Community content submitted by users may appear as blue "i" icons or orange dots in Google Earth.

    If you're ready to take it to the next level, you can create a KML file to appear as a layer in Google Earth.  To get started, take a look here. If you're proud of what you've done, share it with us!  We might show it off in the Google Earth Gallery which highlights various layers created for Google Earth.

Hopefully this helps give you a better understanding of just how Google Earth works, and the wide range of ways you can interact with it. Keep an eye out for additional "tips and tricks" features on the LatLong blog about to learn more about how to take advantage of all the features of Google Earth (and Google Maps too!).