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Google Gets Political

Sara Goo

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.

A Google Earth view of Pennsylvania's 7th congressional district. (Image Courtesy Google)

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.

By Sara Goo  |  October 22, 2006; 11:01 PM ET  | Category:  Sara Goo
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For just watching your own (or others) backyard try PICSFROMSPACE, LOOKUP YOUR PLACE BY ADDRESS at

Posted by: walweb | October 23, 2006 1:39 AM

You need more faith in Google. Their maps are superior to Mapquest, IMHO. For even bigger thrills, check out, to discover the market value of your house, and of the houses owned by all your friends.

Posted by: | October 23, 2006 4:54 AM


For a minute, with the headline, I thought you were going to wade into Google's contributions to the GOP ...

Here's a riff we did yesterday, with some info on their new PAC

Weekend Special


Posted by: J. Thomas Duffy | October 23, 2006 7:19 AM

I have never contributed to a political campaign and now I never will. I think I will allow my voter registration to lapse in order to decrease the amount of junk mail I receive.

Posted by: Ralph | October 23, 2006 8:49 AM

Sara - Thanks for the heads up about this feature. Very cool!

I think you're right about Google Earth itself being overkill for getting simple driving directions but I do use it quite a bit for other things.

I use Google Earth a lot to view GPS tracks of where I went running (there's another freeware program out there called Sport Tracks that can import GPS data from Garmin and other popular units and export it to a kml file you can pump into Google Earth - so you can see exactly the path you ran/cycled/hiked).

Anyway thanks for the heads up about the political feature.

Chris Campo - Cupertino California

Posted by: Chris Campo | October 23, 2006 9:12 AM

Sara: Politics and contributions. Nice to get with a mouse click.

Another good site to check for quick info in another realm is, find out if restaurants have passing or failing grades

Posted by: mark | October 23, 2006 9:22 AM

This feature was in Google Earth at least two weeks ago, so that bit about it going live Sunday is a little off.

Posted by: Josh | October 23, 2006 2:14 PM

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