April 4, 2007 9:00 PM PDT

Google makes mashups easy, even for me

Mashups that overlay any kind of data on top of an online map are all the rage. But up until now I didn't know that even I, with no coding experience whatsoever, could make a customized map of my own. I did, and it took less than an hour. And it can even be found in the Google Maps index if I want it to.

Google allowed me to preview a new feature of its maps service that it plans to launch on Thursday called My Maps. It lets anyone create mashups by essentially pointing, clicking, dragging and dropping. I used a temporary log in and password since the feature hadn't publicly launched yet, but normally I would log in using my Google account information.

When the feature is live, the Google maps site will feature a new "My Maps" tab next to the "Search Results" tab. I clicked on the "create new map" link and typed in a title and description. The interface also gave me the choice of whether to keep the map private or make it public.

Click for gallery

If I choose to keep my mashup private, I can share it with friends by distributing the Web address. If I make it public, it will be accessible through Google's searchable maps index. It may take several weeks to be included in the index because it takes about that long for Google's Web crawler to notice new Web pages, said Jessica Lee, a product manager for Google Maps. User-generated results created using My Maps will be displayed in Google's map search index directly below the organic results, Lee said. My Maps creations can also be viewed in Google Earth, she said.

I decided to make a mashup of places of interest from a city where I lived for a year, so I typed in "Lisbon, Portugal" in the search box and Portugal's capital city was displayed. I created a marker for my old apartment by clicking on the marker icon at the top and pointing and clicking on the location I wanted. I wrote a title and description for each marker and was able to choose from a variety of marker styles, from upside-down teardrops to pushpins to icons in specific shapes to designate lodging, food, or recreation. I also had a choice of icon colors.

Click here to Play

Video: Google's new mashup feature
My Maps tool makes customized mashups easy

There were also tools that allowed me to draw on the map and outline areas. I basically pointed and clicked to create a shaded section around a section of the city called "Bairro Alto," well-loved for its fun bars and night life.

Lisbon is known for its quaint cobblestone streets and beautiful river views, and I wanted to include my own photos that would be displayed in a bubble that pops up when a marker is clicked. However, My Maps doesn't yet allow people to grab photos off their hard drive. That function is coming, Lee said. I had some photos on Flickr and found others on the Web to use and they were easy to insert by clicking on the image icon in the edit function of an open bubble and cutting and pasting the URL for the photo into it.

I also grabbed a YouTube video of Mariza, a popular contemporary singer of Fado--Portugal's version of the blues--to include on a marker for a Fado restaurant I used to frequent in the historic Alfama district. I did that by cutting and pasting the video's YouTube "embed" code into the marker bubble on my map. It was all incredibly easy and I'm very excited about creating my first mashup, something I figured was out of reach for my lack of skills and time.

The My Maps site features some examples created by Google employees, including a fascinating oral history trail of characters encountered along historic Route 66, which runs from the northern Midwestern states through the Southwest. Another featured map shows the red and blue states from the country's 2004 presidential election and the statistics of voters for each candidate.

"This is the mainstreaming of mashups," said Greg Sterling, principal of consulting firm Sterling Market Intelligence. "It's moving from the realm of developers and (technologically) sophisticated enthusiasts to ordinary people who can use these tools to create maps to share."

There are other similar mashups-for-dummies-type services, notably Platial, dubbed "The Peoples' Atlas," and Microsoft's Live Search Maps Collection Hub. But neither service offers "the same extent and visibility" as Google's My Maps, Sterling said, particularly since My Maps offers inclusion in the Google search index, which millions of people use every day.

Google also unveiled this week an experimental tool for creating a mashup using data from Google Spreadsheets. However, that tool requires some technical or programming know-how and requires that users have their own Web site to host the mashup, and does not allow for insertion of video or photos, said Lee. In addition, those mashups are not included in Google's search index, as the My Maps mashups are.

See more CNET content tagged:
mashup, Google Maps, Portugal, Google Inc., map

10 comments

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Microsoft's had these features in Virtual Earth for over a year...
How about some honest reporting CNET? here is Google plain and simple copying Microsoft, and you dont say a word... if this was reverse, you will be all full of yourselves on how Microsft lost the ability to innovate... would be nice to stop the Google bias for a change and get the real news - you are like CNN "Breaking news!!!", any news from your frat boys is real news.

GREAT unbiased reporting, just great, no wonder the bloggers kill you.

Yea, Linux+Mono Rulz!
Posted by alexthecat (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, Indeed...
MS has had this ability in local.live.com, with shareable maps (aka "collections"), etc. for awhile now. It's easy to use. They even had a promo where famous folk made mashup maps of their favorite restaurants, etc., although if I were a star I wouldn't necessarily post that info.
Posted by ryanhirschey (35 comments )
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...and who cares? Not CNET for sure.
Microsoft only gets headlines on CNET when a bug is found in one of their products.
Posted by Fil0403 (1303 comments )
Link Flag
Check it
Why do you promote a company which breaks the law who keeps videos out there which clearly violates the laws of the land? See peekvid.com which contains 1000's of pirated movies Google retains & refuses to delete...... the Google CEO, Larry etc., were directly alerted over 6 months ago, persistently, to take them all down. They do not because they hide behind their interpretation of DMCA laws, and use those motivations and the movies as a lever into business negotiations with content owners? I think it is F1 bad for NEWS.COM to encourage Google. Do you agree with these kind of principles, or NO?
Posted by trueview (29 comments )
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Not a trueview
Putting aside the thought that you may be trying to drive traffic to the "peek" with a post like this, a business news site would be in violation of the principals of journalism to forgo reporting on a corporate story regardless of the allegedly illegal misdeeds of the company in question.
Posted by tlcoles (11 comments )
Link Flag
Already live
There's a 'My Maps' tab on GG maps now live...
Posted by claypotsny (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
JPEG Map
Where can I find a service that will allow me to place markers on a road map and convert the result into a jpeg file? I'd like to use these in a travelog slide show.
Posted by Highwire (5 comments )
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make a JPEG/GIF
I have been marking up maps and saving them as GIF files for several years with Microsoft Streets and Trips. I assume it can also save to JPEG files, or else you can convert them. I use the "save as web page" feature and then rename the saved GIF I am interested in.
Posted by clamoreaux (9 comments )
Link Flag
Google Mashups
This reminds me of some users who done the mashups and shared them through <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mobdown.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.mobdown.com/</a> which was really great stuff. Did some downloads from <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.mobdown.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.mobdown.com/</a> and then added them to my blog, which really make things simpler.
Posted by AlienEric (42 comments )
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