More GIS Information for Google Earth

When Google first came out, there was one GIS outfit who enthusiastically embraced KML as a way to share their GIS data with their community – the City of Portland, Oregon. This was in 2005 and they created some fantastic KML files showing things like commercial districts, tax properties, etc. I’ve long been expecting many other GIS shops to do the same, but apparently few have had the resources to develop the necessary software to convert their data visualizations over to KML. There are reasonably priced tools like Arc2Earth and KMLer which make it much easier to take data from ESRI GIS tools and output them as nice KML.
Last week, Google announced they had worked with ESRI to convince them to more fully embrace KML (which is now an OGC standard) so it would be easier for GIS shops to output to KML. Jack Dangermond, CEO of ESRI, actually joined Google on the stage and announced the next release of ArcGIS Server (version 9.3) will have much more support for KML.
Shortly after the big ESRI announcement, I heard from the GIS department for the State of Maine about some of their efforts with KML. They have a web page with many KML files sharing selected data with the public (warning: some of the files are quite large and may slow down GE). I’m sure they will be anxious to try out the new ESRI tools to share even more of their data, but take advantage of optimization features of KML such as regioning and view-based network links.
Jack Dangermond said there is currently some resistance in some pockets of the GIS world to sharing data. He has spoken to some GIS departments who don’t want to share their data. Hopefully, the public will increasingly see the utility of professional sources to GIS data, and begin demanding more access to the data. Google Earth, through KML, enables powerful visualizations with an easy to use interface. But, we need more GIS organizations like the City of Portland and the State of Maine to embrace it.

About Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.


  1. Another GIS department that embraced KML from the start was the City of Nanaimo, BC (
    FME ( supports KML writing which should make it easy for most GIS shops to share their data, if they’re willing. Perhaps that’s the issue.

  2. Washington, DC now produces KML files for download from their public GIS site, as well as the ESRI Shapefiles as they have done in the past. I’m very impressed with the amount of public data released by DC.

  3. @John H: excellent point! I should have remembered to mention Nanaimo which I’ve written about before:
    @Bean: I hadn’t heard about Washington DC, thanks for that tip.

  4. I actively use KML files, and I work in a Northern Virginia Local Government. Mainly I produce simple KMLs of delinquent taxes so the Treasurers Office can go and collect in the field. I love them and frankly I am ecstatic to hear ESRI is going to do more to integrate the two.

  5. scott s. says:

    I think the question is whether KML provides advantages over shapefile for data sharing. If nothing else, the ubiquity of GE/Maps solves the viewing problem, without data producers having to put up their own map servers. In some cases though it appears data producers use map viewers as a way of avoiding making the actual data available gratis. My GIS software (Global Mapper, much cheaper than ArcGIS) readily converts data formats and projections/datums to/from KML so data conversion is no issue at all.

  6. Frank:
    Our experience saw a few issues that kept coming up again and again over the last 3 years–
    1) Traditional GIS shops seeing GE as a competing technology rather than a complementary technology with ESRI fomenting the problem by promising ArcGIS Explorer as a competing globe platform. Jack Dangermond demo-ing ArcServer with Google Earth will go a long way in removing this false contradiction.
    2) Widespread dissemination of spatial data, especially when overlaid on top of high-resolution imagery, brings issues of data currency, metadata, and spatial accuracy to the fore that don’t necessarily rear their collective head when one’s web presence is a little used, ugly, clunky ArcIMS site. Too often, public agencies interpreted their mandate to make information public as not an obligation to make it easily accessible e.g. let’s make a shapefile downloadable and leave it at that.
    3) Google Earth licensing. Even with the loosening of licensing restrictions, there’s an entrenched perception that GE use at work is “illegal” which too many IT departments are all to eager to police off the network. We know of one large energy company that has a corporate ban on YouTube and GE…as if both were equally unrelated to their core business
    The tipping point of professional visualization will come when both enterprise GIS systems such as ArcServer, and even more so standard databases such as Oracle and SQL Server, have easy-to-maintain hooks to GE as a front-end browser. From there, in-house user momentum will take care of the rest…

  7. I have long awaited for a closer working relationship between GE & ESRI. Without a doubt this is a potential step to provide spatial analysis abilities to everyone. Hopefully they will reduce the “resistance in some pockets of the GIS world to sharing data”

  8. Jonathan O'Keeffe says:

    Amherst, MA also has great KML coverage, including tax parcels and building footprints for the entire town (with clickable parcel details via network links), full zoning details, build-out history, lots of 3-D buildings, and even overlays with historical topo maps and photographs. See

  9. Russian cities:
    Protvino and now Obolensk
    KML – in few days we can see KML also

  10. Brian
    2 years before we run ideas about KML standard.
    I think governments must now accept list of licensed KML viewers and editors – GE, ESRI products, …
    Current quest is server based data storage solution.

  11. Agree it is a good sign of more convergence between GIS and GeoWeb folks.
    Our little bit to help is a free application to convert shapefiles or .CSV into KML and still keep all your structured attribute data. Or you can use it to just find interesting data in KML, shapefile or .CSV format.
    The conversion tools are still in private beta but drop us an email and we’ll send you a code. Finding and downloading data is all open.

PLEASE NOTE: Google Earth Blog is no longer writing regular posts. As a result, we are not accepting new comments or questions about Google Earth. If you have a question, use the official Google Earth and Maps Forums or the Google Earth Community Forums.