Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Loop Links in Google Earth

Screen shot from 'Map the Fallen' Project
Sometimes in GEarth we want to visualize a connection between one place and another, a line looping between the two places is a good way of doing this as used by the 'Map the Fallen' project shown in the screen shot above.

To produce a loop:
  1. Download this Excel spreadsheet file
  2. Produce 2 placemarks where you want the ends of the loop to be.
  3. Right click the first and select properties. Copy the Latitude and Longitude of the placemark into the yellow boxes of the 'Start' row of the spreadsheet.
  4. Reapeat 3 but for the second placemark and put in the 'End' row
  5. Select the 'Out' tab at the bottom of the sheet and copy the text in the cell with the text in.
  6. Select the temporary places folder in GEarth by clicking it > right click > paste
  7. Your loop should appear
  8. Right click it > Properties > Style Color tab to change its look.
Design Points:
  • Details on how to color and choose the right thickness for lines in this lines Video I did a while back.
  • I think you have to be very careful not to use too many lines at one time so as not to overwhelm the user.
  • Loops would be a great way of showing a one to many relationship, i.e. the place of manufacture of the parts that go to make up a laptop connected to the factory where they all assembled.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Google Earth Layers

Interesting comment from Frank on Google Earth Blog:

"One of the weakest areas of Google Earth is its layer interface. Mostly due to the fact that it is not easy to find layers without opening lots of folders. If Google would just add "search" to the layers pane things would get much better. An option to memorize certain favorite layer sets would be another improvement. There's so much information available in the layers, but my perception is that few people discover whats hidden there."
Couldn't agree more.

I also worry that even when someone opens a layer, they may not realise that they have to fly down before anything will appear. I discuss this properly here.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Tour and Activity

Screenshot of the Experimental Tour

I had a discussion the other day with a bunch of Googlers from Google Outreach about a research project I'm planning. Its about GEarth tours and in the course of kicking around the idea we came to the joint conclusion that tours had a great capacity for showing people material and then getting them to explore on their own informed by what you've just shown them. I liked the idea so as an experiment (excuse the balloon formatting and lack of polish) I've produced an example on the back of something else I'm working on. It takes you through some educational material about interpreting landscapes and then gives you a constrained task. A key part of the presentation is the use of pauses within the tour.

Technical Notes:
  • The image prompting you to press play that appears in the bottom left of the screen is useful as its a signal that you've paused in the tour
  • By using the plugin I can turn off all the unwanted layers such as roads, boundaries and just leave the terrain on. This works well for this particular content.
Educational Notes:
  • Audio would work a lot better here than the text, there are specific reasons why I've not used audio that I won't go into.
  • Getting students to do activities is a well proven technique of improving learning. When a GEarth tour is paused you can fly anywhere to explore, clicking play again takes you back to where you left the tour and then the tour continues. This ability is what I use in this experiment to provide an activity.
  • A nice extension of the idea would be to pause the tour showing students several placemarks which they have to navigate around and then choose between the placemarks. Clicking the placemark would tell them if they're wrong or right. For example: you could explain the basics of where to find groundwater in Africa using a GEarth tour then provide some placemarks that represent sample borehole sites . Clicking the placemarks would give them feedback on whether they'd selected the best site to drill to find groundwater.

Monday, September 14, 2009

San Francisco Crime Map: Review

San Francisco Interactive Crime Map by Stamen Design

Stamen design have produced a very high quality crime map of San Francisco. At heart its a mashup of crime stats and cloud made base maps but they've produced an innovative 'pie of time' controller with which you can select different crime at different times.

Lots to love here:
  • Pie of Time: The 'pie of time' is highly intuitive and usable. You can choose any selection of hours in the day you wish or use obvious short cuts to choose obvious time slices such as 'day', 'night', 'commute'. It scores much higher than the GEarth timeline controller (previous discussion) although it doesn't animate time so its not completely comparing like with like.
  • Date Chooser: The pie of time also works with a highly usable date range or date chooser control at the bottom. A nice touch I noticed was that there is an indication of data downloading when you change the range of time, something I think GEarth doesn't handle well.
  • Cloud Made Tiles: I'm impressed with the background tiles by cloud made, nicely subtle so as not to detract from the data.
  • Layer Control: Is simple and the semi transparency is a nice touch.
  • Rollover: At first sight I like the rollover behaviour which highlights other points in the same category as the one your mouse is lying over but I'd really want to see how it scored in usability testing: It could confuse low skill level IT users.
  • Icons: I'm really surprised that given the amount of thought that has gone into the rest of this map that point icons are marked with letters rather than graphics. For example, a hypodermic syringe for narcotics and a bottle for alcohol crimes would be instantly recognisable and much more memorable.
Previous post praising Stamen Design

Thursday, September 3, 2009

CBC Google Earth Tour of Afghanistan: Review

Via a Google Earth blog post I came across this tour by CBC shown in the screenshot above. Its a good example of a news agency trying out the ability to use the Google Earth plugin to add value to a topic with a strong geographic flavour. There is a lot of potential in doing this and I'd want to encourage CBC and other news agencies to produce similar tours. However, I think they could improve what they've done by really using the geographic capabilities of GEarth. Some specific thoughts:

  • Thematic maps: I liked the use of thematic maps to show the general locations of the countries. Just plotting things on the background data of GEarth can be difficult to understand because the imagery is visually 'busy'.
  • Fading Images: The authors took the time to code in the images to fade in and out which looks slick and professional
  • Professional Audio: The audio to go with the tour was good quality and professionally done.
  • Background story: I felt the tour added useful background to the Afghanistan war story, e.g. I liked the detail about the historic buildings in Herat
  • No Introductory Logo: As Frank pointed out to me recently, an introductory screen logo helps viewers focus on what they're about to get and who is telling them the story. That being said, they do get their logo in at the end.
  • More Fly Throughs: At one point the tour refers to 'wind swept mountains' but the camera doesn't sweep through a sample mountainous valley to show us. The ability to do this is where GEarth really shines
  • Ground instead of Screen Overlay: Although I liked the overview thematic maps, the authors used a screen overlay rather than locating the map on the ground as a ground overlay. This would have been better as features in GEarth would have been related to the boundaries of the map.
  • Areas not Points: At one point the tour refers to 'Helmand province' but we aren't shown the boundary to this area on screen we just see Helmand city as a point, a province is clearly an area not a point. More detail on the general point of polygons vs placemarks in Google Earth in my Google Tech talk.
Producing GEarth tours with lots of photos and syncing with an audio commentary isn't easy. I think its a shame that having put in a lot of work to produce this they didn't use GEarth's capabilities to a greater extent. I think they ended up producing something that represents more of an audio image slideshow rather than really using the capabilities of GEarth tours. To see if you agree with me compare their tour to:
I've contacted CBC to see if they had any comments on this review, I didn't hear anything from them.