When we were developing the Canadian Museum of Nature‘s Vale Earth Gallery Exhibit, we worked on quite a few cutting-edge interactives that pushed the boundaries of what web technologies were capable of at the time.
Some interactives we built didn’t require such cutting-edge technologies, but rather innovative ways of using well-known technologies to solve problems.
One such interactive was the Earthquake Map touchscreen kiosk. This kiosk was designed to pull historical earthquake data from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) website, and display it on a Google map. Each earthquake had GIS data (latitude and longitude), as well as an English title, date, time, depth and magnitude.
Since the museum is in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, it needed to be usable in both English and French. Since the data was coming from the United States, it was only available in English and Spanish. We needed a solution.
But how can we translate live data that gets updated every hour? And what if there was an earthquake in a location that never before had an earthquake?
We put our heads together, and came to the realization that Google maps (maps.google.com) was in English because that’s the language we were asking it to use. Maybe other countries had the same data available in their native language?
Voilà! Google Maps France (maps.google.fr). It turns out that if you run a query in English, it’ll return the results in French! This means that we can send what we get from the USGS, and display a nicely translated location to the user.
With so many earthquakes happening each day, we would be sending quite a few requests to Google, and these take time. To avoid the delay in getting each translation, and avoid potentially hitting Google’s quotas, we decided to store the results in JSON format on the kiosk computer.
The final kiosk now holds thousands of translations, and fetches new ones as it needs them. If there’s an earthquake in the middle of the ocean, it’ll know what that’s called in French.