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Google Helps Nonprofits Conquer Google Earth

The project also includes online forums to enhance communications and connect interested users of Google Earth with experienced developers.

Google on Tuesday launched a new initiative to help nonprofit organizations communicate and present data using Google Earth.

Google Earth Outreach aims to provide information including help documents, video tutorials, and case studies that describe how to create Keyhole Markup Language (KML) layers for Google Earth. The project also includes online forums to enhance communications between nonprofit organizations and to put interested users of Google Earth in touch with experienced developers.

Examples of how nonprofit organizations can use geospatial data to communicate can be seen in the new layers, assembled by the Global Heritage Fund, EarthWatch, and TransFair USA, that Google added to Google Earth's Global Awareness folder.

In April, Google added a layer detailing the Darfur crisis to the Global Awareness folder, along with several other layers. The Darfur layer remains the only one turned on by default.

Other layers in that folder -- the United Nations Environment Programme Atlas of Our Changing Environment, the World Wildlife Fund's Conservation Projects, Appalachian Mountaintop Removal, and Jane Goodall's Gombe Chimpanzee Blog -- must be manually selected before they're visible on Google Earth.

Google also is offering nonprofits the opportunity to apply online for Google Earth Pro license grants. Google Earth Pro normally costs $400. Organizations awarded a free license also receive additional technical support and the opportunity to have their work featured in the Google Earth Outreach Showcase, an online gallery of new Google Earth layers.

"Google's mission is all about making information more accessible and useful," said Elliot Schrage, VP of global communications and public affairs, in a statement. "With programs like Google Earth Outreach, we seek to help create a 'marketplace of ideas' in the growing not-for-profit sector that rivals and complements what we offer commercial enterprises."

The power of satellite imagery hasn't escaped nonprofit organizations. Earlier this month at the International Digital Earth Symposium, Amnesty International USA introduced a project called Eyes on Darfur designed to monitor vulnerable villages in Sudan and to deter violence there.

Last week, Reuters reported that Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, saw online mapping software like Google Earth as a potential security threat, but acknowledged the technology could not be undone.

Since Google Earth debuted in June, 2005, it has been downloaded more than 200 million times.

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