Yesterday's announcement that the UNHCR and Google are mapping humanitarian work in refugee camps is a really encouraging sign of what's to come in online advocacy. Maps are incredible for the amount of digestible information they can quickly convey to a reader.
Here's the part I loved most from what the UNHCR is saying about it:
Highlighted are not only the physical area of the camp and surrounding country, but key parts of daily life such as education and health in photo, text and video format. Within seconds, Google Earth brings the daily life of a refugee camp into your home thousands of kilometres away.
UNHCR is doing great work on the ground in places like Darfur, and they're generating content that really wouldn't have as strong an impact displayed in another way. In one glance, you can quickly get a sense of the water resource situation in this camp and the gaping lack of a health care facility.
After getting a general sense of the situation, you can dive in quickly to learn more by clicking on an icon. Clicking one of the education icons, for instance, tells you about the hopes of a student at one of the camp's schools - and it also gives UNHCR and opportunity to ask you to donate.
With Google Earth's rich user interface tools, the map becomes a whole new way to browse content that is much more intuitive and contextual than most of us are used to. Simply put, it makes the content more compelling, which goes hand in hand with what the UNHCR want to do - raise awareness of the refugee situation and their work on the ground.
We're currently working on several mapping projects and are particularly interested in finding good ways to use maps as navigation tools for browsing all kinds of content within Drupal websites. It's been our experience that most organizations don't want to send readers off their sites to a new application like Google Earth, or for that matter, use AJAX maps like Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps with their heavy load times. Not, at least, if they have an alternative... In the coming weeks, we'll unveil a couple projects that are working towards that end. We're really excited about the difference they'll make for the international development organizations we're working with and their potential to dovetail with great efforts like this one by UNHCR and Google Earth.