Google Earth’s home page now has 2 major KMZ updates for downloading: One links to a collection of 3228 post-Hurricane Katrina images from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) created “through some serious efforts by NASA, Carnegie Mellon University, and Google.” The other is a collection of all the overlays and placemarks submitted to Google Earth Community over the past 8 days related to Katrina.
This whole is an impressive example of collaboration and self-organization. Thanks to everyone involved.
What’s interesting from a social software perspective is that it is still Google Maps that provides the best means for dynamically updated user-contributed data, however. Witness the Katrina Information Map (with more possibly showing up on Google Maps Mania) that lets visitors add placemarks onto a map of Louisiana with messages or information. Google Earth’s “API” is still far too limited to let that quality and ease of interaction happen. Until it does, the application remains a one-way street when it comes to live updated data — easy to consume, but hard to contribute. This is probably the biggest obstacle left to Google Earth’s becoming the next generation browser.
[Update 09:21 UTC: One further thought: It also appears to be a lot easier to add an ad hoc "emergency" layer to Google Maps than it is to Google Earth. A feature request for Google Earth, then: A permanent "Emergency" or "Special" item in the the Layers directory that can be automatically populated with this kind of data, which we currently download manually.]