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How Google Earth Works

Customizing Google Earth
The Crisis in Darfur
The Crisis in Darfur
Photo courtesy of Google Earth™ mapping service/TerraMetrics 2007 copyright/Europa Technologies 2007 copyright

One of the factors that makes Google Earth stand out from other mapping programs is the level of customization it offers. You can easily insert placemarks of locations you want to return to or overlay your own images on a map you create. It's all right there in the toolbar. And if you want to get really fancy, you can import your own files into Google Earth to display routes, points of interest, boundary data, et cetera. Much in the way an Internet browser reads HTML, Google Earth reads a language called KML. You can open your own KML file in the Google Earth application and see your data displayed on the Google Earth imagery. To learn about importing your own data, check out these links:

Google Earth features third party overlays and applications from time to time, including overlays sponsored by the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the European Space Agency and many other organizations. Layers can highlight natural wonders, impressive achievements, environmental efforts and political issues. The following are just a few examples.

Crisis in Darfur -- an overlay developed by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum that maps out the genocide in Darfur. When you activate the overlay, the Darfur region in Sudan is outlined on the globe. Markers appear where the Sudanese soldiers and Janjaweed militia have destroyed villages. The markers also tell you how many people were displaced as a result of the destruction of each village. The overlay includes images, video and articles about the ongoing crisis.

Geographic Web Layer -- a layer with three sub-layers: the Best of Google Earth Community layer, the Panoramio layer and a WikiPedia layer.

  • The Best of Google Earth includes a selection of the most popular placemarks created by Google users. Switching this layer on reveals tags (marked by a golden, lower case "i") that, when clicked, might give you more information about a location, a gallery of photos or even a link to a film about the area.
  • With Panoramio, you can geotag photographs and upload them to Google Earth. By geotagging a photograph, you anchor it to a specific location in Google Earth. For example, you would geotag a photo of Mann's Chinese Theatre to Hollywood, Calif. Panoramio examines all photos to make sure they're appropriate for inclusion with Google Earth. Photos should be clear, accurate and have the location as the focal point -- the service won't upload photos of you hugging your cat in front of the Eiffel Tower. Once approved, photo locations are marked with a Panoramio tag. Click on the tag and your photo appears.
  • The WikiPedia layer displays markers that are links to WikiPedia articles about the region. You can find articles on countries, states, cities or even individual buildings.

Read on to learn about more ways that you can customize Google Earth.