Google Gets Political
If you're like me, you haven't used Google Earth for much more than checking out what your own backyard looks like from a satellite. The thrill of zooming in on your house is equally creepy and just plain cool. But when it comes down to it, I'm not going to use Google Earth to find driving directions.
It seems the folks at Google know this, too. They're increasingly adding practical ways to use Google Earth beyond snooping on friends and neighbors. Just in time for elections, they're adding features that will help voters learn a bit more about the candidates running for Congress in their district.
Beginning Sunday evening, when you check out Google Earth's map of the United States, you'll see little stars bearing the likeness of the American flag dotting the landscape. Click on the one where you live, and a box will come up with the candidates running for House and Senate seats. The list goes beyond Ds and Rs to include the Green Party and even the Pirate Party candidate in Iowa.
The most practical feature is the link in each box to a Web site often used by reporters, the Center for Responsive Politics. Here, you can check out the political contributions each candidate has received and follow the money yourself.
John Henke, director of Google Earth and Google Maps, told me the project "bubbled up" as an idea from some young Googlers interested in politics who found it hard to find Web sites where they could easily compare candidates. It also fits with Google chief executive Eric Schmidt's "vision for the company in democratizing information and giving access to people who didn't have it before," he told me. Ah, sweet, technology justice for all.
So will Google Earth continue with this League-of-Women-Voters role for the presidential election? For local mayoral elections and school boards? After all, Google is also pushing for more local search and information. Henke didn't want to commit. "We're just getting our feet wet," he said.
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