Do you believe a map can make the world a better place? Google does. To demonstrate the Earth-bettering potential of cartography, it launched Google Earth Builder back in August 2011 in order to provide cloud services for those map-makers who need to store, manage, and (probably) publish maps containing insightful data that is of some value to people looking to do some good in the world.
Nominally speaking, it didn’t take long for Google to get around to reconsidering the name Earth Builder and since it is a company that prides itself in christening its products with broadly reaching connotations that maximize their purposes, yesterday Earth Builder was renamed Google Maps Engine. The new name not only builds on the recognition of Google Maps – not that Google Earth wasn’t recognizable, but when you need to look for something, which service do you typically go to first? Thought so. – but also broadens the scope of what Earth Builder aims to do.
So what, then, does it aim to do? Google Maps Engine still does what Earth Builder does, namely cloud hosting of maps containing geospatial data that can be used in map applications. In the business of saving bonobos from extinction? Google Maps Engine might be of use to you to identify the regions of the world where bonobos are currently endangered. That’s what the World Wildlife Foundation and Eyes on the Forest used Google Maps Engine for in order to map the disappearing forests of Sumatra that provide natural habitats for an array of fauna (not necessarily bonobos, though). The groups not only mapped out areas of the island where the forests are diminishing but the regional populations of rhinos, tigers, orangutans, and more.
Another example of Google Maps Engine at work focuses on the maritime conservation of the British Columbia coastline. Living Oceans Society created maps that include kayak routes, areas of eelgrass beds, and oil and tanker traffic in order to keep the locals informed about the risks that industrialization imposes on the oceanic ecosystem.
In short, it’s good stuff. If you want to get started with Google Maps Engine but aren’t sure what you’re getting yourself into, Google has a few tutorials to help you get your nonprofit up and running with some convincing geospatial evidence. Beyond the tutorials, there’s also some bigger help available: Google has also launched the Google Maps Engine grants program for nonprofits for organizations trying to raise awareness for their cause through the use of Google’s mapping services.