Last year, Google's Open Source Programs Office funded the GeoServer Project to add support to output data to Google Earth. In the venture capital world, there is a notion of 'seed funding': putting capital into a new, usually risky, project to try out an idea and help it reach a state of sustainability. Google wanted to promote the idea of using 'Network Links' in KML to enable organizations to put large amounts of existing geospatial data onto Google Earth. They found fertile ground in the open source GeoServer Project, where the seed would not have to grow in isolation, but instead could flourish alongside other improving components.

GeoServer was started by a non-profit called The Open Planning Project (TOPP) in 2001, with the goal of making geospatial data more available through open standards - not just images but the actual data, the 'source code' of the map. This opens the information to enable analysis, modeling and user corrections. Today it is a vital open source project, with many outside contributors. The latest release (download) contains a number of new additions for Google Earth, which the community has helped shape and improve over the last year.

New features include the ability to easily customize placemark pop-ups from existing data, support for 'Super-Overlays', powerful time visualization, and automatic generation of legends. These are all available from a variety of data sources, including PostGIS, Oracle Spatial, DB2, ArcSDE, Shapefiles, GeoTiffs, and ArcGrid, with more being added every day by the community. There are also several related improvements, including the ability to overlay data dynamically on Google Maps, as well as GeoRSS and GeoJSON output.

Other Google Earth-related news: TOPP is participating in a testbed put on by the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) to help figure out what the next version of the KML specification may look like. The GeoServer team is very excited about KML becoming an OGC open standard, as GeoServer already implements the main OGC standards. For the testbed TOPP will build support for the new version of KML in to GeoServer and OpenLayers, an excellent AJAX mapping client. To follow and participate in the work being done on the next version of KML, subscribe and contribute to the ogckml page on del.icio.us.