Friday, March 13, 2009

Like many of you, I got a kick out of flying to my house the very first time I used Google Earth. But after I'd had enough of zooming, tilting and panning around my neighborhood, I wound up asking myself, "What next?". I knew that Google Earth could take me virtually anywhere I wanted to go. But West London, England, is where I grew up — before I sought out new places, I wanted to see what Google Earth could show me about my own home turf that I didn't already know. As it turns out, it showed me quite a bit, and it was turning on the Google Earth Community layer that really made my neighborhood come alive.

The Community layer showcases placemarks posted to the Google Earth Community by users: Google Earth fans who seek out the coolest places and want to share them. These range from natural phenomena visible from above, to the biggest man-made structures that represent the greatest engineering feats. Near my home, however, I found that the Community layer revealed places of historical interest that I never even knew existed: a centuries-old pub that's played host to both King Henry VIII and the Rolling Stones, the apartment where Bob Marley lived in 1972, and the site of Chelsea Manor — a 16th-century palace that was demolished in the early 1700s.

For me, these fascinating finds represented the coolest thing about Google Earth: its ability to combine local knowledge with the best satellite imagery and make it available to everyone. I was eager to participate and share some information of my own, but I wasn't sure where to start. I remembered that renowned mystery writer Agatha Christie used to live in a cottage a few blocks from my house. Not finding it in Google Earth, I thought this placemark could be of interest to mystery buffs and budding local historians alike. Here's how I added it to the Google Earth Community:

1. After making my placemark in Google Earth, I right-clicked on it and clicked Save As to save it to my computer as a .kmz file (the standard file-type for placemarks).
2. I then visited the Google Earth Community to look for a place to post my placemark. I chose the forum 'People and Cultures.'
3. I clicked New Topic and filled in the blanks, making my subject 'Agatha Christie's house.' I added a description of my placemark, a short biography of Christie, and included an image of the author herself.
4. Time to attach my placemark! I clicked file manager and used the Browse button to find where I'd saved my placemark on my computer. I then clicked Add File, then Done adding files. I then previewed my post to make sure it looked the way I wanted it to.
5. I clicked Submit.

It's that simple! The Community layer is updated about once a month, so hopefully you'll be able to view my very first shared placemark soon, at 58 Sheffield Terrace, London, England. If there's a place you want to share with the world — from the huge and unusual half way around the world to something cool and unique in your own home town — the Google Earth Community is a great way to do it.