Google Earth + CIA Factbook = GIS Goodness

I’ve always been a fan of Google Earth.  Who isn’t?  And even before Google Earth (heck, before Google) there was the CIA World Factbook, one of the first truly useful sites in the history of the web.  The Factbook first came online in 1994 and it was truly a forward-looking project in terms of its scope, its reliance on database technology (remember that back then, most web content was static HTML), and its organization.  I’ve been recommending it to colleagues for almost 15 years now!

So I was overjoyed to discover a few days ago that someone had created kmlfactbook.org, a site that allows you to overlay data from the factbook onto 2D maps or the 3D Google Earth globe (you must have the Google Earth browser plug-in installed to see the 3D renderings).  You load the site, select a data set (population, GDP, infant mortality…), set details on how the data should be rendered and click “Preview.”  You can even download the data as a KML file for Google Earth.  And though I haven’t tried it yet, the site says that you can upload your own country data to create custom maps and graphs.

What a great way for kids (and adults) to understand the ideas behind the statistics.  This is an indispensible tool that belongs in any teacher’s technology toolbox.

Hey, Google! You’ve Got Eight Planets To Go…

Er, make that seven (sorry Pluto). I’ve been wondering lately if/when Google would launch a “Google Mars” similar to Google Earth. Why can’t they take all of that Mars Orbiter and Mars Pathfinder imagery and wrap it around another 3D rotating sphere? I did find a Google Mars and Google Moon based on the 2D Google Maps system – a nice start. But imagine following the path of the orbiter around the red planet, seeing the whole thing from (electronic) bird’s-eye view? Imagine flying down to ground level and tracing the route of the pathfinder. Imagine students looking for water on Mars…

While I’m dreaming, why doesn’t Google turn its gaze outward to the stars? A search engine for stars which can fly you through space to that special star in the Pleiades at the click of a mouse. Google Galaxy, anyone?

Historical Maps in Google Earth

This month’s PC Magazine includes a blurb about the new collection of historical map overlays in Google Earth. I think that once you start overlaying data onto that spinning globe, Google Earth goes from being a really neat gadget to a seriuos tool for exploring global phenomena and relationships. Using the overlay and some placemarkers, I did a quick study of how the shape of southern Manhattan has changed over the last 150 years:

Things will really get interesting when kids and teachers start playing with the “Lewis and Clark 1814” and “Middle East 1861” maps. You can learn more at Google Earth Geography Awareness Week.