Google Earth — Democratized intelligence in shaping the world

It is widely acknowledged that Google Earth has changed people’s daily life to a large extent. With its user-friendly interface, people now only need to zoom in and out to get access to the visual presentation of this planet. The vast amount of geographic information it provides combined with its user-friendly interface makes it a useful tool in both education and scientific area. It even changed the way people get information. While people used to do research and find resources individually, now people can publish and share their findings, discoveries, new ideas or any other geographic resources online using Google Earth’s unique features like KML layers, which allow people to create their own models for display in Google Earth. The idea of a “geographic information community” is newly introduced and shapes the way people interact with each other. “Democratized Intelligence”(Ramstad, 2009), that’s the best word to describe the outcome of this free-exchanging resource platform, in which different ideas and thoughts are combined to create something that people in the past would never anticipate.

Who ever knew that Google Earth is now exerting a subtle influence in international relations. North Korea, which used tobe the most secretive countries, is now being unveiled to the outside world gradually with the help of Google Earth. Curtis Melvin, a doctoral candidate at George Mason University, has been affixing labels to North Korean structures and landscapes captured by Google Earth. Places he labeled include North Korean rocket-launch sites, prison camps and elite palaces on beaches (Ramstad, 2009). “Here is one of the most closed countries in the world and yet, through this effort on the Internet by a bunch of strangers, the countries are being published”, says Martyn Williams, one of Mr. Melvin’s resource providers. According to Mr. Melvin, worry over North Korean’s plight and the curiosity of this Soviet-style secrecy motivated him to this business, and many of the images he exposed revealed the gap between the lives of Mr. Kim and his impoverished people. With the help of Google Earth, Mr. Melvin brought the secret North Korea much closer into people’s view, and it seems that Google Earth is making contributions to the world’s merge into a single community where no any nation is separated.

Google Earth also has contribution in the discovery and reproduction of ancient culture. Some archaeologists are now using Google Earth to make discovery without “getting their hands dirty” (The Economist, 2008, P1). Archaeological Sites of Afghanistan in Google Earth (ASAGE) is a project team new launched to help people making discoveries using a mouse. In addition, thousands of works of art are reproduced in high-resolution image using the technology that allows people to zoom in and out when surfing Google Earth.(Abend, 2009) Some of the images are of such high quality that some details once indiscernible on the original work now are revealed to people. But concerns are also raised over this new technique, that these quality reproduced art works may discourage people to enjoy the real works in a real museum, and these masterpieces will lose their meaning. “The difference between the original and a high-resolution image is the difference between a living thing and a corpse”, said by New York University art historian Jonathan Browne. But despite these negative concerns, the fact that Google Earth’s visualizing technology is even being used in the reproduction of ancient art works and in indentifying historical remains already exceeds people’s original expectation about Google Earth.

There are other implementations of Google Earth like its role in environment conservation. David Tryse, neither a scientist nor a formal conservationist, developed a KML which allows people to see photos and information of endangered species when surfing the planet (Butler, 2009). Other of his Google Earth applications include a deforestation tracking KML, a KML that highlights hydroelectric threats to Borneo’s rivers. Tryse regarded Google Earth as the watershed for conservation. “It’s impossible to care about something if you don’t know it exists, but now people can fly across the planet and zoom in to see for themselves in a whole different way”.

All these examples above reveal the fact that people’s mind is no longer confined to what has been provided to them. Rather, in an interactive and dynamic resource-exchanging platform, now people can think and work collaboratively, in which intelligence, knowledge and creativity are combined together, punching and crashing each other to create something even more splendid. Google Earth is one of such platforms. A “geographic community”, in which everyone in the world is connected, is where “Democratized Intelligence” happens, where amazing happens.


Abend, L. (2009, Jan. 15).  Google Earth Takes On the Prado’s Masterworks.  Retrieved from,8599,1871656,00.html

Bodum, L. & Jaegly, M.  (2006).  The Democratizing Potential of Geographic Exploration Systems (GES).  In A. Abdul-Rahman, S. Zlatanova, S.Zlatanova, & V. Coors (Eds.), Innovations in 3D geo information systems (pp. 236-239). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Butler, R.A. (2009, March 31). Development of Google Earth a watershed moment for the environment. Retrieved from

Gorman, S.  (2008).  The Geoweb–Democratizing the Map and Changing the Web.  Information Today 25(1):  19.

Ramstad, E.  (2009, May 22). Gulags, Nukes and a Water Slide: Citizen Spies Lift North Korea’s Veil — With Sleuthing and Satellite Images, Mr. Melvin Fills the Blanks on a Secretive Nation’s Map. Wall Street Journal  (Eastern Edition),  p. A.1.  Retrieved from

The Economist.  (2008, September 6).  Armchair Archaeology.  The Economist 388(8596): 18-19.

2 comments to Google Earth — Democratized intelligence in shaping the world

  • Sean Clark

    I felt that Kuang made outstanding efforts to create a post that fully revealed the extent of what the ‘Democratization’ of internet information can lead too. I also appreciated the well placed pictures that illustrated his points well and helped me visualize his comments better.

    One important point that Kuang made was “Google Earth is now exerting a subtle influence in international relations”. I feel that this line alone sums up his post of global information and also the main issue/ability of what Google Earth is allowing people to do. I think that this thesis though has a lot more potential than stating how Google Earth has influenced international relations. Maybe if we were to spin this statment and discuss the implications of virtual globes on political, social, and saftey related issues we could come to deeper conclusions and a more broad view of what ‘Democratization’ of information really represents.

    Sean Clark

  • William Li

    I think Kuang did a great job at summarizing multiple aspects of the “democratization” of Google Earth and gave us an outline of how powerful Google Earth can be used in various applications.

    Although the advantages of democratization is thoroughly discussed, I feel like the reverse side of democratization is not mentioned in the essay. I’ll be helpful if we can approach this problem from both sides and maybe tallking about the disadvantages or even potential harms of democratizing large amounts of geo-related data will offer us new insight into the whole issue.

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