For those looking to satisfy their inner cartographer, Google has a solution. On Thursday, the company rolled out a new feature for its popular map service, called "My Maps," that allows users to annotate Google maps with text, shapes, and multimedia content.
"Humans have been making maps since the Stone Age," Google Maps Project Manager Jess Lee wrote in the official Google blog. "In fact, map-making predates written language by several millennia. Nowadays, people make maps online using tools like the Google Maps API -- but using an API isn't as easy as scribbling on a cave wall. That's why we're announcing My Maps, a new feature that makes it quick and easy to create your own custom Google Maps just by pointing and clicking."
Lee's announcement contains links to some examples of user-created Google maps, including one that shows a 28-day tour of Japan, a guide to the birthplaces of various programming languages (trés geek), and an oral history of America's famous Route 66.
My Maps Making It Easy
As Lee points out, users have been tapping in to the Google Maps API to publish maps of everything from available apartments to Napa Valley wineries, but the process is not intuitive. Google hopes to streamline the process by putting the mash-up tools directly on the map interface.
When users click on the "create a new map" link on the new "My Maps" tab, they see the familiar Google map, but with four new buttons in the upper left corner: a hand to position the map, a pushpin to identify a feature, a line for showing directions, and a shape for enclosing free-form areas of the map.
The features, lines, and shapes all can be annotated by the user, and Web-hosted pictures and videos can be embedded in the descriptions. Not surprisingly, Google recommends using Picasa and YouTube.
Once the map is created, users can decide if they want it to be public or unlisted. All maps receive a public URL, so they are conceivably findable, but only publicly listed maps will show up in Google Maps and Google Earth search results.
Online Tech Trends
The new "My Maps" feature from Google highlights two separate but related tech trends. First, it is a classic example of the Web 2.0 model in which online tools allow users to create and publish their own content very easily. As the tools get adopted by users, they provide both brand identity for the company that created them and advertising opportunities for partners.
Second, the "build your own" map concept ties in neatly to the growing interest in local search services. One of the goals of the major search engines is the ability to tie advertising to specific locations, particularly as more people use mobile devices to find information and businesses.
Both Microsoft ("Live Maps") and Ask.com ("AskCity") have rolled out customizable maps recently, although neither offers users the ability to add images and video.