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The KML Handbook: Geographic Visualization for the Web [Paperback]

Josie Wernecke
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

November 6, 2008 0321525590 978-0321525598 1
“The way the information is presented appeals to teachers, hobbyists, web designers—anyone looking for a way to enhance their content by using customized maps.”
—Warren Kelly, Pastor

“It could become the de-facto tutorial volume for the subject, as well as the classic reference guide.”
—Thomas Duff, Lead Developer

“This book is written so well and is so easy to follow it’s a joy to go through.”
— Daniel McKinnon, Software Engineer

KML began as the file format for Google Earth, but it has evolved into a full-fledged international standard for describing any geographic content—the “HTML of geography.” It’s already supported by applications ranging from Microsoft Virtual Earth and NASA WorldWind to Photoshop and AutoCAD. You can do amazing things with KML, and this book will show you how, using practical examples drawn from today’s best online mapping applications.

Drawing on her extensive experience with the creators of KML, Wernecke teaches techniques that can be used by everyone from programmers to real estate agents, scientists, students, architects, virtual explorers, and more.

Highlights include
  • Incorporating rich content in Placemark balloons
  • Creating overlays that superimpose your images on standard Earth browsers
  • Generating animations that move through Placemarks, Overlays, and Models
  • Controlling and updating map content across the Web
  • Managing large data sets using regions and custom data types
  • Complete KML language reference: elements, types, syntax, file structure, and conventions

Frequently Bought Together

The KML Handbook: Geographic Visualization for the Web + Beginning Google Maps API 3 (Expert's Voice in Web Development) + Beginning Google Maps Mashups with Mapplets, KML, and GeoRSS: From Novice to Professional (Expert's Voice in Web Development)
Price for all three: $98.68

Buy the selected items together

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Josie Wernecke,senior technical writer at Google, works with the experts who created KML’s first releases.  She wrote The Inventor Mentor and The Inventor Toolmaker and coauthored The VRML 2.0 Handbook (with Jed Hartman), all published by Addison-Wesley.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"Learning to 'see geographically' means grasping an ever-changing world in an integrated way. It means getting to the heart of environmental and human problems. It involves balancing global and local understandings. It opens an opportunity to encompass themes vital to today's world: the working of the earth's natural systems, the increasingly problematic interaction between people and the physical environment, the nature of human social organisation with all its inequalities and struggles for power over people and nature."
From "Why Choose Geography?"
Geography Department, University of Liverpool

I took my only formal Geography class in the eighth grade from Mr. Granger, and I loved it. I'm intrigued by the different graphical styles of maps and continue to be amazed by the variety of information that can be shown geographically. By luck, two years ago I was assigned to a project at Google called KML, which has been as much fun as any work can be and as instructive as a year-long series of college seminars, lectures, and personal tutorials. KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language, and is a simple human-readable format originally used by Google Earth (and now by a host of other Earth browsers).

This book is an attempt to share the knowledge I've gained from the experts at Google. When I joined it, the KML team consisted of two engineers: Bent Hagemark and Michael Ashbridge ("Mash"). Bent and Mash's mission was to corral the existing KML into a formal XML schema, to create compelling examples that would represent good coding style, and to shepherd the language to its new and deserved status as an international standard. I was to create a website for KML and expand the existing documentation. I managed to complete that task, but it always felt as though I'd exposed only the tip of the iceberg. Well, here's The Iceberg.

The KML Handbook is also an effort to publicize some of the inspirational KML work by brilliant thinkers around the world---many of them technical experts in their own fields but completely new to XML, KML, and even to the basics of computer programming. They've discovered that KML brings raw numbers, arbitrary place names, and flat maps to life, and they've struggled and experimented to discover the hidden logic behind Google Earth's data format. I hope that, with this book at your side, there will be no more struggles.


This book is written for people who are curious about how to create customized presentations for an Earth browser such as Google Earth but have little or no experience with computer programming. It also contains information primarily of interest for "power users" who want to use the more advanced features of the language. The text suggests the level of complexity for each general topic, and the chapters follow a basic flow from relatively simple to more complex topics.

What You Should Know Before Reading This Book

This book assumes you are somewhat familiar with creating, storing, and loading files onto a computer and into a web browser and that you're connected to the Internet. Although it describes a few elements of HTML that are used in a placemark balloon, it does not attempt to provide an in-depth explanation of HTML. If you're new to HTML, you'll probably want to consult some additional resources on that subject. You do not need to know XML in order to use KML; this book teaches you the XML basics required to use KML.

If you want to set up a server to host KML files referenced in network links (Chapter 6), you'll also need to select a web server software package such as Apache or lighttpd and then install and configure the server according to the specific instructions for that product. Chapter 6 offers some basic information on this topic, but the details are best left to the individual product documentation.

What This Book Contains

Chapter 1, "A Quick Tour," provides an overview of the many different uses of KML, ranging from simple sets of placemarks to elaborate blogs and websites that use KML to make attractive, informative presentations of geographic data. This chapter describes a simple "Hello, Earth" example that illustrates the basic parts of a KML file.

Chapter 2, "Placemarks and Balloons," describes how to create custom icons and attractive ballon styles. It contains detailed information on how to specify colors in KML and how to create KMZ archives.

Chapter 3, "Geometry," goes into detail on specifying coordinates and altitude modes and also explains concepts related to geometry such as tessellation and extrusion. It includes examples and explanations of all geometry elements, including Models. It also shows you how to add elements describing the author and source of a KML file.

Chapter 4, "Styles and Icons," explains how to use shared styles and how to create all types of substyles: icon, label, line, polygon, ballon, and list substyles.

Chapter 5, "Overlays," describes how to create screen, ground, and photo overlays. Other topics covered here include the special processing required to add very large (gigapixel) photos to a photo overlay and how to specify a viewpoint using the Camera element.

Chapter 6, "Network Links," covers how to host KML files on a web server, where they can be refreshed periodically or processed by user-written scripts. It also introduces network link controls, which control certain aspects of the fetching network link.

Chapter 7, "Dynamic KML," provides detailed examples of the Update feature, which allows you to create, modify, and delete elements in KML files that have been previously fetched by a network link. This chapter also describes the time elements, which allow you to animate geometry in a KML file.

Chapter 8, "Dealing with Large Data Sets," contains important information on regions and custom data types. Regions are a powerful mechanism that allows you to control the conditions under which a given feature comes into view. If you're interested in creating a custom balloon style template for use throughout a KML presentation, be sure to read the section "Entity Replacement for Extended Data Elements."

Appendix A, "KML Reference," is an alphabetical reference that contains a brief description of every element and type in the KML standard, with syntax sections for all complex elements. This appendix describes the basic structure of a KML file and conventions of the language.

Appendix B, "Sky Data in KML," describes how to display astronomical data in an Earth browser. It includes the syntax for the "hint" used at the beginning of the KML file to alert the browser that the file contains sky data and also describes how to convert celestial coordinates for display in Google Earth and other "Earth" browsers.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional; 1 edition (November 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321525590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321525598
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 7.1 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Overview of KML November 14, 2008
By Eric
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Just received my copy today and spent the afternoon pouring through it. In summary it is an excellent summary of KML and will appeal to both novice and professionals.

This is a step by step guide to writing and using KML programming language to produce enhanced graphics as overlays onto web based mapping programs such as Google Earth. But since KML is an open standard it can be used with almost any geographic program that supports it (such as Microsoft Virtual Earth, ArcGIS, EarthBrowser, etc.).

It has been a long time since a did any programing and I was worried that this book would be over my head, but it is not. It provides step by step directions with excellent colour screen shots to progressively walk the reader through several real world mashups using Google Earth. KML is based on the XML language but you do NOT need to know anything about programming in order to pick up this book and learn how to write and use KML code. Since KML is platform independent this book will be useful if you use PC, Mac or Linux.

Finally there is a website that has examples and KML scripts for downloading (to save some typing). I especially appreciate Appendix A which is a reference for the syntax of all of the KML commands.

In addition to this book, Google's website has a lot of information, examples and practice scripts on KML and how to use it with both Google Earth and Google Maps. If you are just interested in seeing what KML is and how it is used that would be the first place to go as it is FREE. If you like what you see and want to learn more this is THE reference/guide for KML.

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good place to start with KML and Google Earth April 19, 2009
This book is about KML, the language used for creating custom presentations based on Google Earth maps and many other geographic data display programs. The book was written to be read sequentially, with the basic concepts being presented at first and then more complex topics being presented later in the book. The compact appendix at the back of the book makes a great reference. This is not one of those IT shovelware books that are useful for about six months and then discarded. I can see me keeping this one around for a long time.

You do not need to have any programming skills to use this book. A knowledge of HTML and XML is probably required, and if you have that this book will make perfect sense. If you're new to HTML, you'll probably want to consult some additional resources on that subject. The book does briefly go over XML, but there probably isn't enough detail for you to grasp the concept if it is totally new to you. The following is a brief explanation of the chapters of the book:

Chapter 1, A Quick Tour, discusses the different uses of KML, ranging from simple sets of placemarks to elaborate blogs and websites that use KML to make attractive, informative presentations of geographic data. This chapter describes a simple "Hello, Earth" example that illustrates the basic parts of a KML file.

Chapter 2, Placemarks and Balloons, explains how to modify the KML file to achieve custom effects and paves the way for you to efficiently create entire websites with a custom look and feel. This chapter also explains how to package KML files into KMZ archives so that you can conveniently share them and post them on the web as one entity.

Chapter 3, Geometry, teaches you about a family of elements, derived from the abstract Geometry element.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, But With Some Defects July 22, 2009
I do not share the high rating given to this book by other reviewers. First, the images in the book are terribly fuzzy, sometimes to the point of being unreadable. Second, some of the writing was very careless, and I found many errors that were not caught and corrected during the final editing. For example, some of the sample code violates rules set forth in the text! It is handy to have such a thorough compilation of the rules of KML code, but there's much room for improvement.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent resource, but sloppy on examples January 23, 2009
By Xofer
I agree this is a good book for learning kml. And I realize this is a relatively new book so I hope it gets the editing it needs.

There are kml/kmz files referenced as examples through out the book and these files are available for a free download at the publishers website. The problem is, some of the files are not there.

Adding to the problem, some of the kml/kmz files you download, reference other files that are nowehere to be found, or network links that are broken.

The kml code is in the text so you can learn the concept and re-create the model - sometimes -

02/14/09 - The author has a follow-up in the comment. Synopsis:it's being fixed.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This book quickly provided the basics to write KML programs without having to read hundreds of pages. It's easy to read and follow; and doesn't get bogged down in details. Good book for those who have a programming background but limited or no exposure to XML and/or KML.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great for getting started July 31, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I purchased the Kindle version of this book. I read through the book over the course of a week. It isn't the definitive guide to everything but it is great for getting up to speed on the basics. It fills in many of the gaps left on Google's KML site. One thing I would have liked to see fleshed out more are the differences between KML used on the web (in Google Maps) and KML in Google Earth. I still regularly refer back to the book when I am trying something new. I know I will eventually "outgrow" the book. But that's ok because that means it did it's job. It is easy to understand and set up in a good order if you are seeking to teach yourself and the chapters are well arranged for quick reference. I am happy with my purchase.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful resource
This book was the only one I found that fully covered the subject of KML. I used it with the Google Earth for Dummies book, and other information found online, that dealt with... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mocha
3.0 out of 5 stars Was not what I expected
I learned so much more by another book Beginning Google Maps API 3 (Expert's Voice in Web Development)
Not that the KML Hand Book doesn't have some merit. Read more
Published on April 2, 2012 by albruno
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent run down of KML specification
This reasonably concise book steps through the majority of the KML specification, explaining the concepts and giving adequate examples for someone like myself who is familiar with... Read more
Published on January 5, 2011 by Devin M. Ceartas
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what I was looking for
This book is very watered down and highly Google centric. I was expecting standards and definitions for mapping objects but it was not at all what I expected.
Published on July 13, 2010 by Sean
5.0 out of 5 stars It Gets to the Point
I read this book online at Safari. It's the first book I've read thru online. I was able to do this because it is very direct and gets to the point. Read more
Published on June 2, 2009 by Chad Biggerstaff
5.0 out of 5 stars KML explained clearly
Finally, a book that explains clearly how and why to use KML, how it works, and clear explanations on the options. Now I can get to work and play with KML files.
Published on May 20, 2009 by S. Praly
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing KML Resource
As one of the editorial reviewers of 'The KML Handbook: Geographic Visualization for the Web' I can safely say that I know this book from front cover to back and this is absolute... Read more
Published on February 26, 2009 by Dan McKinnon
5.0 out of 5 stars A 'must' for any computer collection strong in geographic applications
KML began as the file format for Google Earth but has since evolved into an international standard for describing any geographic content. Read more
Published on February 13, 2009 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Best place to start from with KML
This is an excellent resource for people who are new to KML or want to dig deeper. Weather you are already working with GIS and looking at how Google Earth can compliment your... Read more
Published on February 6, 2009 by Amazon Customer
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