Page last updated at 16:02 GMT, Friday, 5 February 2010

Website encourages crowds to keep an Eye on Earth

Screenshot of Eye on Earth
The high-definition map allows users to find their location and rate air quality

DIGITAL PLANET
BBC World Service

Green EU citizens are being encouraged to contribute their own environmental observations to a website.

The Eye on Earth platform is a joint venture between the European Environment Agency (EEA) and Microsoft.

The site shows the water and air quality from the 32 member countries of EEA, displaying the results on an interactive map.

The user-generated ratings are displayed alongside official data gathered by the EEA.

The makers say the site can encourage politicians to "do the right thing".

The site features a interactive high-definition map which users can navigate to find out the quality of air and water in specific areas across the EU.

For once, citizens are going to actually see themselves in this huge global discussion.
Professor Jacqueline McGlade

From there, they can add their own rating of the area - judging the air quality, for example, with various pre-set descriptions such as a "clean", "odourless" or "irritating".

The EEA's future ambitions for the site stretch beyond water and air monitoring.

"What it provides is a platform which will enable citizens to actually tell us what they're going to do to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by changing something in their own life," says Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.

"For once, citizens are going to actually see themselves in this huge global discussion."

The project makes use of Microsoft mapping software and Windows Azure - the "cloud"-based operating system.

"Right from the very beginning we were looking for a platform where we could connect to millions of people," explained Professor McGlade.

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"Clearly a small agency like the Environment Agency in Copenhagen doesn't have those sorts of resources."

She said a key part of the deal with Microsoft was making sure that the systems used were "open and available" for others to use on their own platform.

However, Phil Thornhill, national co-ordinator for the Campaign against Climate Change, is sceptical of such schemes.

"Because it's coming from Microsoft there'll be a lot of hype," he told BBC News.

"But there's potentially a danger the hype will be out of proportion to what it will actually do to help."



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