Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em. Tell'em. Then tell'em what you told'em."Is a great quote about how to do a presentation and it also works well for a Google Earth project. Users will have a better experience if they have an idea of what they are going to find in your project before they access it. Once they've viewed it if you can sum up what they've seen that would add to their understanding, but a conclusion is tricky. The introduction is easier to tackle and its purpose easier to understand. For example, if you have thousands of placemarks in your Google Earth project a users computer is going to seize up viewing them all at once. If you're happy to get into kml coding you can use the regions functionality to manage this, one way regions help is that placemarks will only be loaded if the user flies down below a certain altitude. However, you need to make the user aware that this is going on, otherwise they could be roaming around at high altitude wondering why no placemarks are visible even though a layer is turned on.
George Bernard Shaw*
All fine and dandy, so include some instructions to be read before the user opens the file - right?
Users never, ever read instructions on the web. If it isn't apparent immediately what is going on they'll click away to in a huff to somewhere more interesting. So we have to be smart about how to deliver an introduction and there are a couple of solutions I'll be talking about over multiple posts. Today's is the 'Read Me!' text and I'm going to explain via a KML file I produced to go with the BBC 'Mountain' TV series:
(The shark fin shape of Suliven from the side, featured in the TV program and courtesy of captain.tarmac at flickr.com)
Backstory: I watched this program on Sunday and thought to myself 'this would make a great Google Earth project because mountains are inherently about 3D, I bet the BBC don't even have a decent web map to support it'. And behold, here is the uninspiring map and I produced this KML file in about 45 minutes to show what was possible. Its a shame, the BBC is doing some really innovative experiments with the web such as backstage and experimenting with Second Life , they just don't seem to be on the ball with virtual globes or web mapping yet.
Back to the point: If you open the file you will see a 'Read Me!' placemark. I reckon that this will be opened by most people, 'Introduction' or 'Instructions' would probably get ignored. When you select the placemark you will notice it has 3 short paragraphs telling you the basics of what you will see and how to navigate around. This is really the maximum you can get people to read, put much more in and they'll skip without reading. The only odd thing about this file is that I want people to double click placemarks one by one which will fly them from view to view rather than just seeing the placemark on the ground. For instance, I wanted to show people what Ben Hope looked like in 3D and then what it looked like for invading Vikings coming from the North - a sea view specifically mentioned in the program. This oddness had to be flagged in the 'Read Me!' otherwise it would be easy for a user to navigate themselves from placemark to placemark without ever seeing the wonderful topography.
Next post: Using a video clip instead of a 'Read Me!'.
*GBS was the only reference I could find to this but it doesn't really sound like him, is it someone else?