Google Earth gains chimp pix, travel videos

New partnerships with nature- and environment-oriented groups offer videos, photos and blogs for specific locations. Images: New visions from Google Earth

Content from new partners, including videos, photos and blogs, is coming to the maps on Google Earth.

The search giant apparently hopes to encourage curiosity about the world--and its Google Earth map application--by offering overlays of content from the United Nations Environment Program, the Jane Goodall Institute, the U.S. National Park Service and the Discovery Network, alongside its satellite imagery.

Google Earth

"Think of it as a browser to fly around the planet and discover things about the Earth," said John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Maps.

Google Earth will include before and after satellite images of environmentally endangered locations originally published by the U.N. Environment Program as a coffee-table book. The Kilimanjaro geographical point on Google Earth, for example, now includes an icon that brings people to a 1976 satellite image of the snow-capped mountain, as well as a more current image sans snow, Hanke said. A timeline slider bar lets people move between the two images to view the significant change.

The Jane Goodall Institute is using Google Earth to map the habitat of its chimpanzees in Tanzania, Hanke added. Photos, blogs and RSS feeds from the scientists observing and tracking specific chimpanzees in Africa will now be featured on Google Earth for public view.

Meanwhile, red outlines and information on more than 10,000 trails from 58 parks, provided by the National Park Service, has been overlaid on top of satellite images of actual trails. Photos of select vistas are also included.

The Discovery Network is contributing three- to five-minute clips of existing nature and travel channel programs. (Google Earth previously linked to a more limited amount of Discovery content.)

The new video, photo and blog content is immediately available on Google Earth as part of the free download, the company said Wednesday. All of the new content will be available under Google Earth's "Layers" section, Hanke said. Existing users do not need to upgrade to a new version of Google Earth software in order to see the new features.

While the KML language used to integrate content with geographic information systems (GIS) data is freely available, Google provided some technical support to each of the partners in order to get their content up on Google Earth, according to a Google representative. There are no content agreements with regard to what has been posted, however, and "no money has changed hands," the representative said.

In the coming weeks, Google expects to make more partner content available to Google Earth, which has been downloaded more than 100 million times.

The interactive content announcement follows a presentation Tuesday in London by Google Earth Chief Technical Officer Michael Jones of the timeline slider bar, now available on the free version of Google Earth. The feature, which lets people view photos of a single location over years, was previously exclusive to the premium version, Google Earth Pro.

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