Today Stasia and Kellie wrapped up another Google Adwords Seminar – in the middle of the San Diego wildfires! While they’ve been making their way through road blocks and airport delays, I’ve been looking for some useful information about the location and extent of these fires. The traditional news outlets have done a fantastic job of sensationalizing the already sensational. I’ve heard how many thousands of people are being evacuated, viewed fantastic footage of trees and homes burning, yet I’ve seen very little information that I can actually put to use. If their goal was simply to make me anxious, then job well done.
Fortunately, we have the Internet, with its Web 2.0, open API’s, and several clever people who have been able to assemble some very useful information. Here’s my favorite of the bunch. It’s a Google Map of the San Diego area, with polygons and icons showing the perimeter of the fire at various times throughout the past few days, along with road closings, shelter locations, and other updates.
I’d like to say that this illustrates the potential of tools like the Google Maps API, but this is just the tip of a very large iceberg. It does, however, illustrate how a few concerned folks can cobble together news from several sources to create a scalable web application that I’m sure is helping people through a very serious crisis.
Contrast this with CNN’s handy Flash map. It shows the number of acres burned and when, with a little point on the map where I guess the fire started. Personally, if I lived in Romona, I’d be more interested in where the fire was going.
If I have a point, which I’m not sure I do, it’s that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible in our current iteration of the Internet. What we need next is for our municipalities and news networks to realize what’s freely available, build on it, maybe even improve it, and give us information we can really use.
Update: KPBS Public Broadcasting is providing a very up-to-date Google Map of the fires, which some of the network sites are linking to. Way to go KPBS!