Notes from the Google Earth Outreach Announcement in NYC

Yesterday I was invited to Google’s New York City office to attend the Google Earth Outreach announcement. The details on the event I blogged about yesterday were based on the press release (and written before the event). Today I wanted to share my personal observations and thoughts because I think Google Earth Outreach is an important new initiative. The bulk of the attendees at this event were not the press, but in fact, Google mostly non-profit organizations who have been working, or will be working, with Google’s new program.
Here is a slideshow of a few pictures from the event. You can also view the photos in Google Earth or Maps (note, this is a new capability I will write about later):




John Hanke, Director of Google Earth and Maps at Google, was one of the founders of Keyhole – the company which Google bought which produced the application which became Google Earth. John made the announcement about the new Outreach program. He said it wasn’t long after Google Earth was released that non-profit organizations started developing powerful visualizations with the application. Google people helped a number of these organizations with their noble causes, mostly with their 20 percent time and this work has been inspirational for many members of the Google Earth team. Many of the non-profit organizations needed technical help in order to make the best presentation with Google Earth possible. The resulting layers like Crisis in Darfur, Mountaintop removal, and the UNEP environmental layer, have been significantly successful – not only interesting and important content, but actually resulting in drawing significant world-wide attention to these issues. This is why Google has decided to not just informally help non-profit organizations, but have now set up an official organization of dedicated people, technical resources, and more available to non-profit organizatins to leverage Google Earth for their causes. That is what Google Earth Outreach is about. He then described the many useful resources they have made available at the new web site including showcases of other efforts, case studies on the process of development, and video tutorials on how to create powerful KML presentations.


Rebecca Moore of Google, who has been running the team who manages the layers in Google Earth, has passionately devoted her 20 percent time to these non-profit efforts. Her efforts and the results are a substantial part of the reason Google decided to create the Google Earth Outreach program, and Rebecca is now the enthusiastic new team leader of Google Earth Outreach. Congratulations to Rebecca in her new role! Oh, and here is an official Google Blog post by Rebecca on Outreach.
After John made the announcement, several representatives of non-profit organizations who are part of the new program shared their views. First up was Jane Goodall who is world renowned for her study of the chimpanzee social and family life at the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. Unfortunately, she was only able to attend the Outreach announcement by video conferencing. She is a very engaging personality which was almost immediately demonstrated at the start. John Hanke was rapidly reading Jane’s lengthy bio of her many accomplishments, and on the screen behind him she started making funny faces demonstrating her boredom with the introduction. :-) More importantly, she enthusiastically described the positive experience she and her team has had working with Google to create the Gombe Chimpanzee Google Earth layer. She told the audience how she showed the content to the President of Tanzania and believes it substantially influenced him to implement new laws to help protect the water resources of the Gombe Stream National Park. Jane Goodall said: “The entire relationship with Google Earth has been exciting, stimulating, and we have been thrilled to be involved. I think the Google Earth Outreach program is really wonderful and will be helpful to many organizations.
Next, Kathy Buskin Calvin – Executive Vice President of the UN Foundation spoke. She said they were very happy with their partnership with Google, Google Earth, and Google.org. She went on to describe the UNEP environmental layer, and how it has helped raise awareness not only to the issues of the environment, but that Google Earth can be a powerful tool for the UN organization to utilize. Without making specific announcements she told the audience more layers from the UN are under development.
Next, Edward Wilson – President and CEO, Earthwatch Institute spoke. He not only showed the new Earthwatch layer (released under the Global Awareness layer yesterday), but described why using Google Earth can help non-profit organizations. He said it can help people see the problems, help share the information needed to do something about the problems, and provide access to the projects set up to take steps to solve them. He made the point that without something like these Google Earth layers, many people would not get the unique perspective of how fragile and small our planet is and how these problems can effect so many people and places.
In the discussions afterwards, Jane Goodall made an impassioned plea that if we all focused first on our local problems and helped spread the enthusiasm and results with others, it wouldn’t take long for the entire world’s problems to start getting attention. She sees the Outreach program as an effective way to help spread the enthusiasm and information.
After the presentation, we of course were treated to wonderful catering of food by Google. The table and chairs in the room were carefully selected by the Googlers to represent environmental awareness with bamboo chairs, and earth globe candy in the middle. We then all had a while to mingle and meet representatives from the many non-profit organizations in attendance and the many Googlers who have been working on Outreach.
It was a pleasure meeting up again with people I had met two weeks ago at the International Symposium on Digital Earth including: Dr. Tim Foresman (the man substantially behind ISDE), Mary Anne Hitt (of Appalacian Voices – Mountaintop removal), Michael Graham (of the Crisis in Darfur layer), and Keene Haywood (of National Geographic, who worked on the Ivory Wars layer).
I enjoyed meeting Michael Fay who was the journalist that took the National Geographic Megaflyover images (one of my favorite all-time layers in Google Earth), and who also wrote the Ivory Wars story earlier this year. Sitting next to me at lunch was Phil Verney and Jim Cristol (aka Jumble) who are both moderators of the Google Earth Community.
On the Google side, I met Mark Aubin – one of the other founders of Keyhole, and an active supporter of the Outreach project. There were many other members of the Google Earth team, who I had the pleasure of meeting, many of which flew from Mountain View just for this event. Although there were also team members from Google Maps at the NYC office. They had all worked long and hard to prepare for the announcement, and yet were bright eyed and enthusiastic for the event. It was also good to see again John Hanke, Rebecca Moore, and Megan Quinn (who handles Google Earth public affairs).
I just want to say I think the Google Earth Outreach program is significant, and I hope non-profit organizations who have important issues and a need for geospatial visualization, will take advantage of the program. Google also recently made an announcement about the completion of their Solar Energy project and their plug-in hybrid electric car project. These kinds of programs are pretty hard to say anything bad about. Great work Google!

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