Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Google Saves the Day

How do I get there? I don’t know – Google it?

Whether it is across the county or across town Google Maps has become a staple in the lives of many travelers. According to the article “Newsrooms use Google Maps to improve wildfire coverage” now Google Maps is helping newsrooms improve the coverage of the California wildfires with interactive maps allowing journalists to chart the fires and their damage.

These fire maps have been used by the Los Angeles Times, the Union-Tribune’s and KPBS-TV in San Diego to help their viewers get more information on where the fires have been and where they are heading.

Earlier this year Google introduced the “My Maps” function, which allows non-programmers to build and share customized Google Maps, allowing journalist to put up a map whenever relevant wildfire news occurs. A staff writer for the Los Angeles Times describes how their paper utilized Google Maps:

There were certain kinds of information that we started with. How many acres has this fire burned? How many firefighters are on the line? Are there injuries? Have there been homes destroyed or damaged? Where is the fire moving.

SignOnSanDiego’s Web team used its fire map to show shelters and burned homes, as well as fire origin points and burn areas.'s fire map

Once available, the fire maps proved to be wildly popular with online readers:

An assistant chief with the Los Angeles Police Department said that ‘we had your map up at the emergency options center.’

Once Google noticed how much traffic the fire maps were getting they increases their server capacity to make sure the maps could be displayed quickly and reliably to the people depending on them.

The fire maps challenged news organizations to break from conventional news to deliver needed information to the public in the most timely and engaging ways technology would allow. The article noted that “This ability to deliver information, in this new way, unfiltered and up to the minute, was really important to people.”

Being a consumer of Google Maps myself it was very interesting to read how they have actually integrated themselves into a news source. It is a perfect example of Web 2.0 in that consumers want up to date information on things that pertain to them and they don’t want to simple read the news, but interact with it. The fire maps allowed readers to not only read about where the fires are but actual use a tool that allows them to get the current information that they desire whether it be simple where the fires are, where the fires are heading or where they themselves can go for shelter after being stuck by disaster.

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