One popular area on the web is online maps. Although we’ve had online services that plot getting from destination A to B, we’re seeing more personalized map making. The benefit of these services is that you can share or post your creations. We looked at three free online map-building tools: Google My Maps, Google AJAX Search API and MapBuilder.net
Each of the three services we looked at had clear-cut strengths and weaknesses. Your preference will most likely rest on how many locations you need to map and where you need to post the information.
Google My Maps
The service that has been getting a lot of press is Google’s new My Map service. While Google has had an API that developers could use, there wasn’t an easy way for people to plot a series of map markers and share them with friends. Google has made the process easy and allows you to make your maps public or private. You can still share unlisted maps by providing people with the Google URL. These items will not appear in their search results.
To demonstrate the ease of this service, I built on online map of some of my favorite neighborhood stores. Below is a simple example using the service.
As you can see, the tool allows me to add descriptive text and choose from a series of map markers or icons. Each location was added by using the Find businesses link at the top. When I clicked a search result, I could select the option Save to My Maps. Right clicking an entry allowed me to change the properties and remove other search results from the map.
You can also tweak the map to a certain extent. For example, I wanted to place some distance between two of the stops and not use the default placeholder. To do this, I grabbed the icon and dragged it slightly to add white space. The downside is you may mistakenly move an object and not realize it. Somehow, in my moving and scaling the map, I managed to put the Earth Beam in the bay. This problem won’t happen to the people you share your map with since they can’t edit it.
Google My Maps also makes it easy to share the information. From My Map page, I can email the link to people or link to the page. The two drawbacks are I can’t collaborate with people on the map, nor can I post it on a web page.
Google AJAX Search API
As before, I thought the process was easy and I’m not a coder. I used this service on the Community Wish List site. Each nonprofit has a profile page which can include a map. I simply copied and pasted the Google generated code. You can see an example on the Community Gatepath profile page towards the bottom.
There are a couple of simple requirements. The first is you need to have a Google MAP API, which you can get free. The other requirement is that the place you’re mapping needs to be linked to a URL
The process starts by entering an address in the Navigation panel on the right. You can also add a caption and other text. You could add other items such as hosted images, tags and HTML.
Once the location is found, it appears on the left side with a marker. Underneath your entry on the right, the system displays the site’s latitude and longitude.
What’s most appealing about this online map service is that you can import a CSV file. Rather than typing in these locations, I created an Excel spreadsheet and then mapped the columns to the Map Builder fields. I can think of many projects where I would’ve loved this feature.
This import feature is just one jewel Map Builder offers. I could also have other people collaborate on this map by creating user accounts and access levels. For example, I could allow others to add their favorite stops to the map.
The service also offers a number of options to distribute your online maps, which are available from the Map Implementation link on the top toolbar. The options vary based on whether you choose Google Maps or Yahoo! Maps. Presently, there are more options for Google.
As much as I like the service, I did find some issues. The first is the site is geared towards larger monitors. There is a button on the very top left which allows you to downsize the screen to get rid of the horizontal scroll bar. I wish this were a configurable option. At times, I found the map size option showed correctly in my preview, but not on the page public viewers saw if I used the My Maps button. For example, I might have my map size set to 400 pixels by 400 pixels which showed fine on my side. However, the public map was larger with a horizontal scroll bar and the Map Locations partially out of site.
Of the three online services I looked at that allow you to create online maps, Map Builder was my favorite and the most useful. The layout is not as simple as the Google tools, but that’s mostly because it allows you to manipulate the map in more ways. If you are a coder or real estate agent, I suspect you’ll like the service even more.
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Last Updated (Sunday, 30 September 2012 14:04)