Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Just a matter of time ... ?

I use Linux & Macs, so I've never tried the Windows-only Google Earth download, the former keyhole product.

But a Google-advisor writes, first quoting my e-mail:

Take the "State of the World Atlas" ... imagine if this data was available at all scales, as a GIS annotation layer upon Google maps. A Google News cluster could have a geocoded story link to Google Maps, with the appropriate uncontroversial layers (population, migration, poverty, jobs, pollution levels, trade, transport, social services etc.) enabled.

And then writing:

"I've just downloaded the new Google Earth, and it has the basic structure for doing this. It provides a menu of "layers" of different kind of info, and has provision for people outside of Google to provide the information for "User provided" layers (I see there is one for some UNESCO WHS data, but don't see it on the map). There is currently only low resolution outside of US, but presumably that will get better. Is this the kind of thing you're thinking of?"

They're working on a Mac version of Google Earth. So I'll see it someday.

But I'd like to see these layers in Google Maps. I'm sure the Google digital map groups are closely allied. So it may be just a matter of time. But, some demand would help move development up the queue.

Then, the next step: create contextual map links near news stories. Keywords in Google News clusters can be automatically weighed against canonical descriptions of the GIS layers, as well as the map data labels. The right coverage area would be found, and layers could be pre-loaded, but turned off, with a list of checkboxes, so the the user can enable them.

This would change the nature of discourse about the world ...

Map search broken

I'd like to look at a map of the western hemisphere, type "UN headquarters", and get something like this.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work yet! Google Maps is a local search, based on a small area around the center of the map, rather than on the whole map. If I don't know where in the world UN headquarters is, then I'm out of luck trying to find it in this way.

The search must be weighed against the coverage of the map. At present, you get this, which makes no sense.

[To get this 'demo', I found the UN in NYC, re-centered the map, then clicked "link to this page".]

Monday, June 27, 2005

An interface for your conclusions

Imagine GIS layers that overlay Google maps, automatically selected for uncontroversial relevance to a query.

Say that a Google News article was about Nuclear Weapons. A Google GIS link would appear with the story. Click it, and a Map would appear, with checkboxes on the right, unchecked, representing the unweighted layers that the system considers relevant.

* national data: size of a government's nuclear arsenal
* dates & locations of a government's nuclear tests
* national data: dates & estimates of budgets dedicated to nuclear weapon development
* dates & locations of use of nuclear weapons in wartime
* dates, locations & number of nuclear weapons stationed, by government
* national data: international treaties signed, not signed

I stayed away from controversial, editorial keywords & sources, such as the US government lists of allies, on one side, and Bulletin of Atomic Scientist lists of dangerous acts, on the other. I think, based on the uncontroversial hard data, people will see for themselves who the most dangerous nuclear power on Earth is.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

No analysis

If Google put GIS data on its maps, it would have to be hard data.

It can't include analysis. They'd be in legal trouble, and more, from very powerful interests, if they strayed into the territory of "connecting the dots". This derives from the legal system's insistence that testimony be descriptive and not speculative.

A Google advisor wrote me that the general Google framework "is opposed to agenda-driven editorial content." I think he understood that I just want more GIS data in Google Maps. I guess, because I have an agenda, that already puts me on dangerous ground. But how could the USGS be accused of having an agenda? [They do, of course -- expansion & extraction. But that's been the government/industry agenda since USGS was founded -- no one should be opposed to their data.]

People will be appalled when confronted with official data, in geographic form. They'll do their own analysis.

From my point of view, Google Maps already has other agenda-driven GIS layers in it: the road data (like the roads themselves) result from the automobile & development industries' agendas; the geocoded business listings are part of Google's advertising-revenue agenda; the national boundaries are an acceptance of the agenda of the nation-states that rule our lives.

So why not put the rest in?

Friday, June 24, 2005

Fun with satellites

I know Google is trying to get the best maps & images possible. Last week they made their first world map, and yesterday they uploaded tons of detailed satellite imagery.

But they're a little hesitant to get into GIS, I believe. It's not the cost ... they're worried about appearing partisan. As long as they upload data that's good for advertisers, or for users, that's easy. It's just business.

But let's say if they conflate forestry data with Google Maps, in a switchable GIS layer. People will be shocked at the unsustainable levels of logging, the unhealthy forest ecosystems, etc... Just releasing this uncontestable data will have the Timber Industry publicists, and the Forest Service officials, up in arms. And that's just in the US.

But, they'll get over with it, once it becomes common practice to upload real geographic data.


This bulletin board is annotating Google Maps satellite imagery in another way ... back-linking to the maps & images, and joining it with other data.

I'm calling, generally, for currently available GIS data to be conflated, in selectable layers, with Google Map & satellite imagery. I'd like official data to be visible to the world.

But one can also imagine globally-edited documents, such as Wikipedia entries with latlongs, populating Google maps & images. As one Google advisor just told me, this is more in the 'Google Framework' of letting web popularity determine results.

I think both are valid, and necessary. The bulletin board is a useful stopgap measure. So are all the wonderful google map hacks.

Why grey?

Why is this image so grey? Smog over Mexico City?

Google adds detailed world satellite imagery

Lovely new detail!

Here's downtown Baghdad, Red Square in Moscow and Tour Eiffel in Paris

The more data the better.

Just the facts ... will lead to questions

I believe that Google Maps, containing geocoded UN data, would alone be sufficient to improve the public discourse.

Take poverty ... no matter what you think is the cause of poverty, you'll be surprised by its geographic distribution, especially relative to wealth & modern industry. The data will lead you to ask questions about causes, effects, trends, etc.

That's all I ask. I want hard data to stare back at people, when they look at maps.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The whole world

It looks like Google has uploaded maps for the whole world, though they haven't announced it yet. They are shaped a little differently than the satellite photos, but it is great to begin to put names to the imagery. More names! More imagery! We are hungry for hard data!