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Mapping a Pandemic
Jamais Cascio, 6 Jan 06

googleearthavflu.jpgThe ability to mix data sources and digital maps opens up remarkable new ways of looking at -- and thinking about -- information. We've seen a number of good examples pop up over the last year, from crime statistics to transit information, largely using the Google Maps interface. Reporter Declan Butler has created a quite powerful map mashup for Nature showing the progression of H5N1 Avian Flu in Asia into Europe. This one doesn't use the online maps, however; it uses the Google Earth program, and ends up being a great demonstration of the power of that system. According to Nature, this map mashup is the only place this combination of data can be found.

Butler's Avian Flu map mashup (KML) charts the location of every reported animal and human infection since the outbreak began. Each point lists location, date, and (in the case of animal infections) the number of animals destroyed to slow the flu's progress. The pace and reach of the pandemic take on stark clarity with the map system, and the interface allows for both an in-depth examination of each incident and a big-picture overview of the disease. Butler describes the effort involved assembling this information on his blog.

The Google Earth program pulls the satellite image information from the Google server and combines it with a much more complex and responsive interface than one could get with a web browser app. Google acquired the software when it bought the satellite mapping company Keyhole last year. A Windows version has been out for awhile now, and a Mac version should be out any day now (I used a pre-release version of the Mac beta, and it worked beautifully on my Powerbook).

(Thanks for the tip, David Zaks!)

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