Google Earth is a cool tool that's fun to play around with. Now you can also use it for something more serious—monitoring countries' progress toward achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals, eight objectives to be reached by 2015 that form the blueprint of a mighty effort to make poverty history.
Launch Google Earth (download it first if you don't already have it) from the MDG Monitor Web site and you'll be able to click on capital cities all around the world to monitor their corresponding countries' progress toward achieving the MDGs. For example, you can learn that due to improvements in health and education, Madagascar brought its poverty rate down from 85.1 percent in 2003 to 67.5 percent in 2006. (The goal is to reduce the percentage of Madagascarians living on less than $2 a day to 50 percent by 2012.) There are also links to complete country profiles, such as this one for Madagascar.
Not to be outdone, the World Bank has put a bunch of its own data and links to its projects around the world into a Google Maps mashup. It's not quite as flashy, but you don't need to download any special software to view it. Is this the beginning of a map war between the World Bank and the U.N.?
(Hat tip: Mark Leon Goldberg)