A Graphic Tour of Google’s KML Search

By Adena Schutzberg

Author's note: Directions Media staff has a sense that the concept of "KML Search," a new search option from Google, announced two weeks ago, is still unclear to many readers. We offer this graphic discussion to help illustrate what we think is an important development for geospatial practitioners.

KML Search means that Google, in addition to searching many other file types (DOC, PDF and PPT, for example), can now search inside KML/KMZ files. (KMZ is a compressed form of KML. For most purposes, they are interchangeable.) KML files are basically text files with a certain structure, nothing more. Let's start with a KML search from the Google Search interface.

Figure 1. The query says: "Find me all the KML/KMZ files that have the term 'kite' in them." You can search within many kinds of files using that same syntax.

Figure 2. Here are the first two results. The [KML] denotes it's a KML file and the text shows where, in the KML file, the term "kite" was found. (Click for larger image)

If you click on the first one, the KML is downloaded and if you have Google Earth, it's displayed there.

Figure 3. Burning Man KML, added to my temporary places in Google Earth. (Burning Man is that two-week-long festival in the Nevada desert. This image was taken by a camera lifted by a kite.)

Figure 4. Burning Man KML rendered in Google Earth. It's an image; KML holds those, too. (Click for larger image)

Now, there's nothing geographic about that search, except that it's looking for KML, a type of geographic data. We could have added the word Nevada, but it would be just a text search for KML files, using both terms.

To search KMLs spatially right now, you need to use Google Earth. Support for such searches in Google Maps is under development. Let's try the same search in Google Earth. This time, I chose to do the search in Seaside, Oregon. (I happen to know they fly kites there.)

Figure 5. A spatial query in Google Earth: find Web content and KMLs with "kite" in them in Seaside, Oregon.

Figure 6. The orange results are the local search results Google Earth typically finds. Below, in green, are the KML results from the Web. That's "what's new."

Figure 7. This is one of the Web results: Haystack Rock, in Google Earth. (Click for larger image)

Figure 8. Here's the information on the Haystack Rock KML. It's a KML file created at Platial, a Google Maps application for storing information about places. (Click for larger image)

The finder of this KML finds not just a location but this description of it: "Haystack Rock: The area surrounding the rock is popular for picnicking, kite-flying, and bird-watching. Artists and photographers can be found capturing the beauty of Haystack..."

That's what's possible today, with the limited number of KML/KMZ files on the Web. But, think ahead. What if more KML appeared on the Web, not necessarily as the end goal of a search, but as metadata for something else to be found: a business' website (that's already happening), an image (that's already happening) or geospatial data? And, what if the API of Google Maps were available to build spatially enabled tools to search out these Web-hosted goodies tagged with KML? It's those and related possibilities that the geospatial community needs to explore.

Published Friday, March 2nd, 2007

Written by Adena Schutzberg

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