Writing Introductions


Screenshot of Dafur Layer Introduction


Screenshot of Dafur Introduction Placemark


Introductions are very important when publishing google earth projects. Your users need to be able to assess what they can get from looking at your content, how to do it and it is your chance to sell the special aspects of your project that will draw them in. Fail to produce a proper introduction and users may lose attention much sooner and get confused by your work.

Headlines and sub headings are a form of introduction in Newspapers used universally, at the time of writing no 'norm' of how to deliver an introduction to a Google Earth project has not yet appeared. I have seen introduction materials in the form of:

  1. A video clip in a placemark pop up
  2. Text in an image overlay
  3. Text in a placemark pop up
  4. Text in a folder pop up

I have arranged them in order of decreasing download size, except for text in folders or placemarks (3 and 4) which are similar in download size. Generally it is better to keep download sizes small wherever possible, however, the top two items have advantages above the low download size options: videos have an attention grabbing appeal as illustrated by the popularity of youtube and text in an image overlay has the advantage of being visible (if set that way) when the user first opens the file.

Personally I favor videos (1) and text in placemark pop ups (3) as being the best media to choose and these are described below:


Placemark pop up

The image at the head of this page shows a great example of an introduction in a placemark from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM)*. To access find the Global Awareness layer in the Layers column of Google Earth. Expand the folder and select "USHMM: Crisis in Darfur". What it does well:

  • The main text is brief and to the point, introductions much longer than this will lose users attention and remain unread.
  • The Introduction placemark (black and white image mid hieght far left of screen) is different from other placemarks and is large and prominent, no chance of it being overlooked
  • A subtle logo is included at the top of the pop up which is helps the user identify with USHMM and at the bottom is a link to their web site for more information.
  • The text "introduction" is clear in the pop up balloon, in the title of the placemark
  • Placemark appears at the top of the project listing in the layers column emphasising its importance.

What it doesn't have to do:

  • The Crisis in Dafur layer is very simple in format with only 5 layers in a flat structure, it therefore does not have to advise the user on any special techniques needed to view the content. This is usually necessary in an introduction.

What it does less well:

  • The blue bar down the right of the pop up balloon directs users to other content. I'm not convinced this is appropriate in an introduction placemark
  • The three images along the top added to the USHMM icon take up a lot of screen, they could be combined together into one banner and the banner made thinnner than the existing 3 images.
This type of introduction is simple to do and using the default formatting of a pop up balloon works well, you don't have to use as complex formatting as USHMM did in this project.


Video Introductions


Storm Tracking Video from GoogleEarthblog.  
The author did not mean this to be an introduction to a project but apart from information about how to access content its a good example of what is possible. 

 The video introduction needs to fly the viewer through some material that represents the range of content they can see in your file. It is a more advanced technique so I shall concentrate mostly on instructions how to record a video rather than how best to design it other than to say:

  • limit the length to less than 2 minutes
  • use a video service such as youtube as you can be sure this won't cause undue bandwidth problems to your users and also to your web hosting costs.
  • be careful that any text you capture can be read once processed for youtube or similar. Cut to enlargements of the screen if needs be.

Ingredients (for PCs on XP):
1. A decently fast computer with a good graphics card. Hardware isn't really my area of expertise but I can tell you that this technique doesn't work on my Latitude D610 laptop but does on my dual core desktop Optiplex 745 PC.
2. Fraps, an application which allows you to record video and audio off your screen.
3. Freebie windows movie maker.
4. The free version of Google Earth
5. A place to upload video, I use you tube
5. Optional: A 3DConnexion space navigator mouse or joystick may help you fly around in GE.

Set up the Google Earth project you wish to video, a practise fly through is very useful. Set up Fraps to record, it will record the 'frame rate' as a number in a corner of the screen. Your computer will be working at a mad dash to render (technical word for 'draw') the google earth view AND to record it on video for you, the higher the frame rate the more smooth your final video will be. If the frame rate is low and your video jerky you can help your computer by reducing the size of video Fraps captures.

Once you have recorded your video it will be in uncompressed *.avi format. Using movie maker you can save it as a compressed .wmv file which will make it a reasonable size, an uncompressed .avi video on the web would involve long download times - they really are huge files.

You may wonder why I don't use Google Earth Pro since it does video recording. I wouldn't recommend it, I have tried screen recording with GE pro, Camtasia, Fraps and Captivate and for recording Google Eartj Fraps is by far the cheapest and best. Having said that, I tried Fraps out on another PC with a good graphics card and it was recording on 2 frames per second (fps) which is so bad its not worth doing and I know Andy had problems with Fraps when he upgraded to Vista.

*Disclosure: I am currently employed as a consultant to the USHMM

iDevice icon Reflection

I have produced a Google Earth file to show how easy it is to download data from a GPS and put it into Google Earth. Read the material in the link , look at the content in Google Earth and then write an introduction to this as a placemark given the following extra information:

  • GPS was a Garmin eTrex, now discontinued but in wide use
  • I downloaded the track via GPS Utlities
  • Waypoints are locations I marked on the device
  • Trackpoints are the automatic locations the GPS recorded as I walked. They are in the format yyyy-mm-dd hh:mm:ss (year month day hour minutes and seconds)
  • Trackpoints can be animated by use of the timeline
  • Path is the route I followed
  • The timeline is tricky to use. To animate the Trackpoints select the folder in the Places column (it will show a blue background), click the clock icon on the timeline and set 'Restrict time to currently selected folder' to true. Now press the triangle icon (far right) to play the animation or manually slide the blob around to control the time yourself.

You should filter out some of this information, including all of it would be too long winded.