Thursday, October 04, 2007

New GeoWeb - Environment, Discussion and Sierra Club projects

Recently several interesting new projects using GeoWeb/Geospatial concepts that are "Place Based and (somewhat) Time Based" have come to my attention. I will attempt to give my general analysis of how projects like the following can not only bring attention to environmental issues of today, but can also begin to accumulate background knowledge about the issue and help formulate solutions to these issues for the future.

1. Google Maps International Cleanup Weekend:

Yesterday, C/NET posted an article titled, "Google's International Cleanup Weekend puts maps to good use." Centered around the upcoming International Cleanup Weekend of October 13 and 14, 2007, and using Google Maps and Google Earth, people in communities around the world are invited "to pick a modest project close to home, do it, then share their accomplishments by posting photos and videos to the team's Google Map."

In the past, almost everywhere, similar community volunteer cleanup (and restoration) projects have been common. Many of these are minimally successful at preventing the need for repeated efforts in the future. However, others have been more successful in being able to identify and mitigate the source(s) of the problem and to prevent the need for continued efforts year after year. One especially important feature for this kind of success is the amount and quality of publicity that becomes available to the community about the background issues, the specific project and the solutions. Publicity often generates public enthusiasm for changes.

GeoWeb tools like Google Earth and Maps are providing new and exciting ways for people to share their projects by locating them on an interactive map. In the future it will be interesting to be able to see how many cleanup and restoration projects have happened in the past and are currently planned for any single community, for example, in Boise, Idaho. I suggest that thousands of such projects could be identified with a little effort.

Modern "Semantic Web" search tools promise to provide new avenues for individuals and organizations to search for and gather scientific, cultural and government background information about any cleanup or restoration topic.

And "Social Networking" tools now allow individuals, groups and communities to generate their own publicity about the project in the form of blogs, discussion groups, and online newsletters, etc. Conceptually this networked communication will begin to help communities develop better and more publicly supported plans in the future.

2. A Discussion Forum Within Google Earth

Also yesterday, Frank Taylor at the Google Earth Blog brought attention to a new project called GEBoards. A Google Earth user can find placemarks where someone has started a discussion thread. You can read the thread and make your own comments and you can also create a new placemark and start a new discussion on a topic of your choice.

Note - the first placemarks submitted for these discussions are generally public places and the discussion comments are minimal. However, it will be very interesting when this live discussion project is be incorporated into projects such as the Google Maps Cleanup Weekend noted above.

3. "America's Wild Legacy" - The Sierra Club

On September 28, Frank Taylor on the Google Earth Blog reported that the Sierra Club has released a Google Earth collection showing 52 locations selected for their "America's Wild Legacy" project.

I looked at the report and all of the interesting places in Google Earth for information about how The Sierra Club was using Social Networking and Semantic Web tools for these projects. My initial research did not result in much information. However, it seems logical that the Sierra Club might use some of the social networking tools mentioned above for these projects.

Of special interest to me is the Owyhee Canyonlands project the Sierra Club area selected for Idaho. For forty years I have been personally involved in many recreational activities in this large undeveloped section of Idaho that has often been mentioned as being qualified for National Park Status. With many associates I have also been involved in efforts to help the public visualize and protect this unique collection of desert canyon ecosystems. Moving forward in time, I will try to share ideas with The Sierra Club and others about how the GeoWeb, Social Networking and the Semantic Web can be used to help gather information and develop ecosystem plans for this area in the future.

"The Owyhee Initiative" is a current proposal developed by a consortium of environmental, business and government groups to designate sections for Wilderness, Wild and Scenic Rivers and to increase Native American cultural sites and resources and other specific issues. Interestingly there is a specific comment about the "independent science review of data and an independent, balanced panel of experts."

I believe that the GeoWeb, Social Networking and Semantic Web concepts we are learning about now will provide many new opportunities the general public to learn much more about ecosystem science related to the Owyhee Canyonlands area. This knowledge will allow the public to become much more involved in the contemporary and future planning decisions than they have been in the past.

I intend to write more specific information about the topics mentioned above in the future. Meanwhile, I will end this post with a link to the Google Earth Community Nature and Geography page where I have posted a Google Earth KMZ File that allows you to visit 14 special places in the Owyhee Canyonlands. Links on each of the placemarks allow you to also view spectacular full screen 360 degree panorama views. In the future I hope to add much more information to each of these KML files.

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