I am a HUGE fan of public radio, and I listen to it whenever I can. In the US, public radio comes in the form of National Public Radio (NPR) and most countries have a similar form, as well as access to Public Radio International (PRI). Typically these stations are broadcast just about everywhere, so as you’re driving, you can usually pick them up better than most other stations. I find their content to be one of the last sources of balanced and informative broadcasting.
The other day when I was driving in the US, I caught a news story on NPR about a fascinating new joint venture between Google and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) called “Crisis in Darfur”. NPR is very good about posting their content, so you can read more about it and also listen to the original broadcast called “Google Sets Out to Map the Crisis in Darfur”.
If you are a regular reader here at Off Course – On Target, you will recall some previous posts, such as “Mashed up Maps for the Masses” and “Snowflakes Galore at TechFest 2007”, where we looked at ways that maps are benefiting from new technology and techniques that make them highly customized and extremely rich with information. This new initiative between Google and USHMM adds another dimension and is a provocative application of mapping and high-resolution photographic imagery.
Reuters covered this story at “Google to Map Atrocities in Darfur”. As Holocaust Museum director Sara Bloomfield put it:
"The 'Crisis in Darfur' is the first of the museum's 'Genocide Prevention Mapping Initiative' that is aimed at providing information on potential genocides early on in the hope that governments and others can act quickly to prevent them.”
I am interested in this not only for this specific situation but also as a chance to see if this form of “high definition learning” will be able to make more of a difference in moving people to action than previous efforts. Unfortunately, history has shown that simply making people aware of such atrocities has had almost no effect on stopping such acts.
This project will assemble photographs, high resolution satellite imagery, data, and eye witness testimony, and use Google Earth technology to make this accessible to over 200 million people around the world who have downloaded the Google Earth software*. They will be able to zoom in on high-resolution imagery to see the destroyed villages and other evidence of the destruction that, to date, the Sudanese government has denied exists.
* If you have not tried Google Earth or Microsoft’s Live Search (an implementation of their Virtual Earth technology) PLEASE do yourself and others around you a favor by trying it NOW! Google Earth does require a download, but this is truly one of those things you have to see and experience in order to believe and understand. Almost everyone I know who has done so has been completely amazed by its capabilities. And if it has been a while since you used it, you should try it as well, since new capabilities and more imagery and resolution is being added daily.
To check out the Darfur imagery, you just need to “fly” and “zoom” your way over to this region (a good lesson in itself for the many who never knew Darfur existed or where it was on the map). You’ll see how the project has put a colored border around the region to catch your attention. Zooming in from there and exploring the area is what this project is all about, so give it a try.
After these initial experiences, consider the profound impact that this readily available technology will have. We can expect to see a multiplier effect and an exponential increase in the volume of photographic data being produced by literally billions of lenses being aimed 24x7 at almost every place on earth.
Keep in mind that this mapping technology not only includes the photographic images steadily streaming out of orbiting satellites, but also the billions of photographs that individuals like you and me are taking. All of us can contribute images from our digital cameras via web galleries from the likes of Flickr, Google’s Picasa, Kodak EasyShare, SmugMug and hundreds of others. Putting this in the context of maps and using location as an underlying interface and structure is proving to be a VERY powerful way of connecting information and intellect— truly creating new knowledge and learning.
Of course, any powerful capability can be used for both good and bad purposes. However the point for us to remember is that the technology is “stupid” and can only be put to the uses and purposes that WE design and develop. So once again, we are both the problem and the solution. I am both hoping and asking that we make the right choice and take the action to ensure that this power is utilized and leveraged for very positive forward progress and benefits.
It remains to be seen if the “Crisis in Darfur” project and this new combination of content and technology will produce new levels of deep and behavior changing learning. But in my opinion, it is a great form of leadership by example. Let’s learn from this example and begin to design and develop other ways of putting this technology to use for increased effectiveness of learning and performance.
What other applications and projects can YOU think of for using this technology?