Google Earth in the browser. So what?

I’ve been working on Google Maps (GM) quite a bit lately to map incidents and trends related to humanitarian access, election violence and human rights. It’s exciting to note that Google has now released a Google Earth (GE) plug-in for browsers that allows for a richer, 3D experience provided you have the bandwidth to spare.

A recent BBC Click story put the number of those who had downloaded Google Earth in the hundreds of millions. But the story fails to note how many of those who downloaded it actually use it regularly and of that subset, how many use it to view the more serious layers available for it (on climate change, on refugees, on genocide) instead of just looking at the roof of their home from space or walking down virtually through the same roads they would travel on in real life…

My experience with GIS with the NGO sector in Sri Lanka is that no one really has heard about it! I’ve been trying without much success to introduce it to the work of HR and humanitarian organisations with a large local footprint for close upon two years, but the significant human resource (and financial) investment that needs to go into data manipulation, analysis, plotting and sustaining that kind of operation is not something that has convinced organisations to embrace this. So what you find are the more hobbyist non-specialist GM / GE activists like moi, who use it with what they have in the hope that by example and by its use in advocacy, more people will see its benefits. (The interest in CMEV’s elections violations maps, the first of their kind in Sri Lanka, suggests that this could be the way forward in getting more widespread awareness and use of mapping for advocacy) .

And I may be the only one, but I find GE sometimes an overkill and hard to use. I find that the GM API’s offer more flexibility in this regard particularly for web integration and web based advocacy, but don’t have the programming knowledge myself to use leverage them, having instead to rely on coders who are already pressed for time with paid deadlines.  

The new GE web browser plug-in may help bring in a lasting “wow” factor to map based advocacy, with as the Google LatLong blog notes, with just a single line of code.Only one problem. Only Windows is supported at the moment.

When the frack will these organisations realise that not everyone runs, or cares to run, Windows?

Anyone interested in pursuing the pros and cons of GE / GM should read Paul Currion’s excellent commentary here and the paper referenced on it.