Creating Google Earth Street Views to Advance News Stories

March 30, 2009
Category: Uncategorized

Blogger Frank Taylor recently wrote about homemade street views, a cool Google Earth trick that could be an intriguing online news tool.

The example Taylor used is from Taiwan, where “Google Earth fanatic” Steven Ho lives. Taylor wrote:

“[Ho] has been waiting for signs Google would bring Street View to Taiwan, but finally couldn’t wait any longer. So, he spent a few days making his own street view panoramas for National Taiwan University’s campus.

“It turns out March is the month when the Indian azalea bloom, so he decided to take his street view photos along the famous Royal Palm boulevard. Steven took the time to not only take 150 panoramas, but also process his KML [Keyhole markup language, which is to Google Earth what HTML is to Web browsers] so it looks and acts just like Google Earth’s Street View imagery. He also added in some 3D buildings for the campus and the palm trees.”

The result is impressive. If you have Google Earth installed (I recommend upgrading to Google Earth 5.0), then download Ho’s Taiwan street view and open that file in Google Earth. After it zooms in on Taiwan, click on any of the camera icons to start your visual wandering of the campus. If you don’t have Google Earth, here’s a video screencast of what the experience looks like.

This made me think: What if a news organization offered this kind of experience and related it to a news story or ongoing topic? I can envision news organizations using Google Earth street views to: 

  • Show the effects of a disaster such as a flood, hurricane, earthquake or tornado. Or (on the bright side) the effects of a redevelopment project or environmental cleanup.
  • Offer unique insight into the local environment: Culture, architecture, economy, etc.
  • Overlay current imagery with historic imagery from Google Earth (or elsewhere) to create a sense of transition from past to present.

It used to be that creating a Google Earth KML layer required a bit of a learning curve, but Google’s Panoramio service makes that a bit easier — at least for very basic projects — by automating the KML generation process and allowing you to upload photos. You can also use Panoramio to enable photo browsing via Google Maps street view.

Many Google Earth developers are creating map layers related to current events such as the Fargo, N.D., flood. There don’t appear to be many mainstream news media projects involving Google Earth, though, aside from those involving The New York Times and National Geographic.

Google, not surprisingly, generates a Google Earth map layer for Google News, which is a fascinating way to discover current news based on geography. To activate, go to the “layers” menu in the Google Earth sidebar and expand the “gallery” to view the “Google News” layer.

Seems to me that Google Earth is a field ripe with engaging journalistic opportunity — especially considering there’s a Google Earth iPhone application.

There is a very active Google Earth community where you can find ideas and help. The Ogle Earth blog by Stefan Greens is also a great resource that “documents how Google Earth and other neogeographical tools are affecting geopolitics.”