gearth.jpgGoogle has opened up the long de facto standard for map overlays, the Keyhole Markup Language, making it an official open standard. The Open Geospatial Consortium, an international map standards body, will oversee the future of KML, which has been renamed the OpenGIS KML Encoding Standard (OGC KML).

Both Yahoo and Microsoft already support KML in their mapping services, but with KML no longer under Google’s direct control, we expect even more map services adopt the standard. And that means layers created for Google Earth or other proprietary apps will work elsewhere as well.

The Google blog touts KML as “the HTML of geographic content,” and while that may be a bit hyperbolic at the moment, the blessing of the OpenGIS standards body could well make that claim a reality.

KML began life with Keyhole, a startup Google later acquired and used to create Google Earth. Naturally there are critics of the OGC KML endorsement, most of whom argue that there are better, more robust markup languages for map tools. But given the ubiquity of Google Maps, Google Earth, Yahoo Maps and the rest, KML seems a good candidate for a standard even if it may not be the most feature-rich choice (KML is no slouch, but many of its components are geared toward Google Earth).

While KML may not fill every cartographer’s heart with joy, the format is relatively easy to work with and is already to backbone of thousands of user-created overlaps for Google Earth, Google Maps and more.

Naturally Google stands to be biggest winner here since the primary use of KML (at the moment) is in Google Earth layers. However, now that anyone can use KML without worrying about Google making sudden changes, the announcement also means that we could see some viable Google Earth competitors spring up.

See Also: