The return from San Francisco to North Carolina was long, but uneventful. Here’s a summary of highlights from days 2 and 3 of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) special sessions on Virtual Globes. Here is the list of presenters from the sessions. Days 2/3 were all poster sessions. The guys who organized these sessions managed to get display projectors so most of these presenters not only had posters, but also were able to demonstrate their virtual globe data. There were too many sessions for me to summarize each one, but some may get stories in the coming days.
An interesting observation is that I spoke to scientists who have been using Google Earth from NOAA, NASA, USGS, Smithsonian Institute, International Polar Year, and several Universities. All of them have found Google Earth a valuable way to share their data, and all of them are planning to do more. Another encouraging sign was that there were some educators presenting who have used Google Earth in the classroom and found it a valuable way to open the doors into the minds of students for science. And many scientists are using GE for educational outreach. Scientists were coming up to Google and other presenters and asking for tips on how to get their data into GE. I expect I will have a lot more to write about next year from the science community.
On both days, several folks from Google attended as either presenters or as attendees. Members of the GE team came and asked presenters and other interested attendees for input on improvements. A couple of common topics were the need for subsurface rendering (i.e. drawing caverns, drilling, under sea bathymetry in 3D, etc.), and another was the need for scripted tours with annotations and multimedia (audio/video).
On Wednesday, someone famous in the GE Community was presenting: Valery Hronusov (aka Valery35 in the GEC) who lives in Perm, Russia. Unfortunately, Valery is still learning English and my Russian is really inadequate. The folks at Google think very highly of the many contributions Valery has made with innovative applications for Google Earth. In fact, they found an interpreter so they could talk to him and invited him to the Googleplex on Friday (and planned to have an interpreter there). I only managed a small conversation with him directly, but his enthusiasm and abilities were clearly evident. I hope he really enjoyed his first visit to the US.
An interesting discussion was held on Wednesday between Patrick Hogan of NASA’s World Wind (WW) project and Brian McClendon who is Director of Engineering for Google’s Earth and Maps projects. The discussion mostly centered around interoperability of data using KML. NASA currently has left support for KML to be done as an add-on for WW and it has limited functionality. Brian asked why they don’t support KML officially. Patrick’s response was interesting. He indicated they are supporting open standard interfaces such as WMS and WFS. Patrick indicated they would like to see KML made a standard. Brian indicated Google is considering putting KML up as a standard, but the standards process has a tendency to damper innovation and Google feels the virtual globe applications are evolving too rapidly to be constrained by a standards process at this stage. Brian also pointed out that WW needs interoperability with more datasets (i.e. KML) if it wants to gain users. Someone from a university setting asked Brian what to do if they needed functionality not available in either GE or WW. Brian immediately pointed out that since WW is open source, they certainly could turn to WW to implement new functionality. In fact, he made it clear GE is designed to support a broad audience and is necessarily restricted in its ability to be customized and that WW serves a valuable role for those situations requiring customization or non-Earth applications. In my opinion, this was a healthy discussion. Although, I believe NASA WW and Google GE people need to sit down and discuss interoperability more thoroughly.
On Thursday, Rebecca Moore from Google was presenting. She is the same person who got the attention of the media after Al Gore supported her efforts to stop a logging project near Los Gatos in California. Environmental concerns were a common topic at this AGU conference, so Rebecca was a popular presenter. In fact, I made sure to introduce Rebecca to the folks organizing the International Polar Year (which starts in March of 2007) because the IPY would like to see their data included in GE. As expected, Google seems quite open to accepting input from such a large international project. Especially when it was pointed out that Stefan Geens of OgleEarth has been working on the IPY GE content development. I also got to meet several members of the GE Layers team and I made sure to thank them and talk to them about the layers. As I’ve said before, I think the layers are a vast treasure-trove of data which is under-utilized by many GE users. We talked a bit about ways to improve the interface.
I managed to get myself invited out to the Googleplex one day and see the new offices for the Google Earth and Maps teams. They had to move earlier in the year due to growth. Well, it appears they are outgrowing the new location as well (geo job hunters take note). It was nice speaking with Michael Jones (Chief Technologist for Earth) and meeting many members of the GE team. Many of them immediately recognized my name and told me they read my blog on a regular basis. Wow! Special thanks to Lrae who gave me a nice tour and “bought” me lunch at one of the 5-star free cafeterias.
Special thanks to the organizers of the AGU Virtual Globes sessions. It was a great idea to pull these presentations together under a common theme, and I hope they do it again next year. One thing which was abundantly clear to me is that Google Earth is going to get even more exciting in the coming year. So, stay tuned!