Google Geo Hackathon Report

When Google announced they were having a Google Earth and Maps Hackathon a couple of weeks ago, Virgil Zetterlind of EarthNC decided he would go to New York to attend. I asked him if he would make a report for GEB readers about his experience. The following is Virgil’s report (which includes a summary of his own presentation to the group):
Approximately 40 people gathered at Google’s New York City office yesterday afternoon for a ‘Geo Hackathon’. Googler’s Mano Marks and Roman Nurik provided brief overviews of recent updates to Google Geo API’s and applications including Google Earth 5.0, the Google Earth API, and the Google Maps API. As the event name suggested, the bulk of the evening was spent ‘hacking’ by the various participants and sharing hints, tips, and ideas among attendees.
Towards the end of the evening, participants were given a chance to present examples of their own work and projects to the group. Presenters included:

  1. Evan Sandhaus from the New York Times Research and Development team. Evan gave an interesting overview of the tagging process used for each new Times story and how adding geotags to stories led to the current New York Times layer in Google Earth. The Google Earth layer includes stories 7 to 30 days old based on the general topic area (hard news stories expire quickest). The layer is updated every 10 minutes by the Times and the Google Earth network link refreshes every 15 automatically.
  2. David Rosenberg, an engineer from Sense Networks (, demoed the output of various GPS track analysis algorithms which seek to extract ‘stops’ and other individual behaviors based on cooperative GPS tracking via cell-phone. This can be a challenging problem in the urban environment where geolocation errors due to poor GPS signal (at which point the phones revert to cell tower locating) and low update rates (only once per hour in some cases).
  3. Virgil Zetterlind, founder of, highlighted their latest applications which leverage Google Earth 5.0 including their 3D Chart Demo ( and YouTube interactive map search ( Virgil now offers a 2-day KML design course ( for organizations looking to jump start their Google Earth design skills.
  4. Mitchell Bring presented a project to create an online Hudson River Atlas featuring both realtime boating and fishing information as well as a large collection of historical maps of the Hudson River going back to the original explorations of Henry Hudson (who explored the Hudson in the hopes that it was the Northwest Passage to China). This year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of New York City and many attendees where involved in projects to commemorate the area’s history.
  5. Michael Bloch, a graphics editor at the New York Times, showed some great thematic maps he has produced. Most of his maps are flash-based, but they highlight some great simple, intuitive design principles that would be great to apply to Google Earth thematic maps. Michael’s personal website ( shows many examples of his maps. KML developers who work with ESRI shapefiles should check out Michael’s “MapShaper” application which supports interactive, configurable line and polygon simplification – a great tool to reduce map complexity (and hence improve Google Earth performance) where exact contours are not needed. Michaels is considering adding KML support to MapShaper.

As usual, Google was a gracious host and provided a great forum to interact with the creative developers who attended. Google’s annual large developer conference – Google I/O is coming up in May in San Francisco. If you’re an active KML developer or thinking of becoming one, Google I/O is a great place to learn about the latest Google Earth and KML features direct from the engineers who create them.
Thanks for the report Virgil!

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.

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