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Foreword

Foreword

If you have ever hiked a ridge or climbed an Alpine peak, you know that magic moment when your view rises above what’s immediately around you to reveal the new and distant land beyond. This is my sense as I write this foreword. I look back at a decade-long climb to advance Earth browsing technology from an idea to a patent to a start-up business and finally into the everyday lives of hundreds of millions of people. I look ahead to those further peaks—the greater good that you and other KML developers work by building on what we have done. But most of all, I look inward to see how a decade of virtually exploring our planet has raised my own perception, tolerance, and respect for spaceship Earth and its crew.

Experience has vividly demonstrated that geographic browsing has the power of personal exploration—so much so that users of products Google Earth and Google Maps often remark after seeing their homes and locations of their lives that, as T. S. Eliot wrote in Little Gidding, they now “know the place for the first time.”

World-spanning, detailed imagery and terrain make the geobrowsing experience real. Smooth motion and the freedom of exploration make it engaging. Brought together in a geobrowser, these attributes give the age-old complaint “if you were there, you would understand” a solution. You can now easily “go there” any time, using your personal computer or mobile phone, and when you “get there” you will see the relevant information in its natural geospatial context and have the ability to browse the area at will. For the first time, all people can know, feel, and understand in the deep ways that formerly only travel could teach.

This understanding is the ambition of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s KML—to provide a popular, pervasive, and international standard for the “what” that is embedded in the “where” and “when” of Earth browsers. The chapters of this book detail many forms for this “what,” including points on, above, or below the Earth or even in outer space, lines for roads, paths, and boundaries, filled and outlined regions, text, images, 3D objects like buildings and boats, and various mechanisms and encodings for sharing each of these.

Together these elements form a comprehensive markup language and publishing framework annotating the Earth and other planets with the unbounded diversity of humanity’s information. This role is like the relationship between page-oriented web browsers and HTML, the difference being that a page browser without an HTML file is just a blank page, while an Earth browser without a KML file will still offer a richly detailed world to explore and enjoy—it will lack only the annotation information that would turn the planet into a storytelling mechanism.

If this idea of a planet lacking the critical annotations to make a point—say real-time traffic and weather, the locations of your bank’s ATMs, the trend of sea temperature rise near coral reefs, the story of Shackleton’s voyage, the details of every location mentioned in a Jane Austen novel or Shakespeare play, or the spread of the H5N1 virus—troubles you and moves you to action, then KML and this book are for you. For in that case, you are one who will use the power of geobrowsing and the geoweb to create the distant land we see beyond today’s mountaintop, a land where information has the power to save our planet, reshape politics, educate people, and improve life. For your role in using the virtual world to change the real one, I salute you.

Michael T. Jones
Chief Technology Advocate
Google

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