Geography 970

January 27, 2010

Google earth as GIS data viewer

Filed under: Uncategorized — kjmcgrath @ 5:29 pm

Images are pretty

I think this article typifies “public access to professional data” which certainly is a important competent of the “democratization of cartography” that has been touched upon in mapping circles. (I’ll leave the deconstruction of that term for Dan Huffman’s article for now.) While there are still some barriers to access (georeferencing of images, dealing with file formats, etc. – all things still in the domain of professionals or dedicated amateurs) using an established well known platform like Google Earth (GE) seems to open this data non-experts. My perception is that the vast majority of people with computer literacy have interacted with Google Earth (maybe this is wrong…?). But the ability of GE to display vector geospatial data and georeferenced images though an approachable interface and navigation system (one many users are already familiar with) allows experts to easily distribute data to non-experts. I think that this ability relates back to the power of maps in general and specifically the data power of GIS, GE as a data viewer then taps into this wealth of information (GIS data/Imagery and maps as communicative graphics) in a relatively non-threatening passing information requiring expert knowledge to more people.




  1. I think you may be right about the number of people exposed to Google Earth. Nearly three years ago (which is a long time in terms of this stuff), half of all Dutch(!) people had used it ( And Google is constantly updating its number of total downloads (I believe it’s over half a billion downloads now, but I can’t find the source).

    Google Earth is a great example of removing the barrier between software nerd and poised layman. I’m working on a project right now looking at areas of irrigated agriculture in Iraq pre- and post-2003. We are able to employ anyone with basic computer skills to collect our test data using Google Earth. The high-end analysis isn’t done there, but it doesn’t matter. Google Earth is flexible enough to speak to the high-end applications through the genius of KML.

    Comment by Tim Wallace — January 29, 2010 @ 5:32 pm

  2. I think by all practical definitions, Google Earth is a geographical information system. It certainly doesn’t have as many analytical tools as ArcGIS, but the installation base may encourage GIS tool-makers to build components for evaluating data in the near future. The difficult part is ensuring that all of these tools remain free to the end user.

    Comment by Jeremy White — January 31, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

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