Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Mark Up Google Maps "By Hand" With QuikMaps

QuikMaps is a new web app that allows users to annotate Google maps "by hand" using an editor that supports drawing and tagging. You can draw and attach various labels directly to the mapping space and they'll stick there, and the map itself has the basic zooming and grab-and-pan features of Google Maps. Here's an example of a map I created using QuikMaps.

(Your browser or blogging software's handling of iframe content may pose problems with embedding your maps on a website or blog. Posting in Blogger using the Firefox browser, I've found that the maps will post but that the post "breaks" the WYSIWYG editor and makes it impossible to edit a post that includes the QuikMaps code. This is definitely Blogger's problem, and only one of many bugs in their software; the iFrame content works fine in my wiki and no doubt elsewhere on the web as well, including on Tim Lauer's blog, where I learned about QuikMaps.)

This is an interesting approach to mapping that breaks out of the search model of most current mapping servers, where you type in search data that is correlated with data layers in the map (looking up addresses or suggesting travel routes, for example). Great benefits of Quikmaps' system include:

  • Tracing a travel route by writing it on the map. Any mapping service sometimes gives you a bad route, and if you're trying to create directions for someone else, the traditional model completely breaks down under those circumstances.
  • Labeling things you already know the location of, instead of using the Google Maps interface to look it up (which sometimes Google can't find).
  • Using approximate rather than exact markers. This is a corollary of the previous point, but it allows you to designate an area when a precise marker is not relevant or is unavailable (general area you liked when viewing homes for sale, range in which your lost cat has been seen, street a store you liked was on when you can't remember its name and don't know its address).
  • Labeling many things on the same map (although other mashups do this too).
A couple of additional features or fixes would be very valuable:
  • Drawing in multiple colors. This would allow you to create multiple, color-coded routes. For example, I recently led a teacher training workshop in PowerPoint and curriculum integration in Temple, Texas, and took somewhat different routes each way. If I wanted to show these routes to someone else or label them for my own future reference (see this map I made), having at least two colors to choose from in drawing lines would make this feasible. {Update: Good news! QuikMaps creator Ken Hoetmer emailed me to tell me this was already on his to-do list.}
  • Better location scouting from the search bar. When I said I wanted to go to San Francisco, California, I was dropped in Santa Clarita (down near Santa Barbara) and had to navigate my way north. Whoops!
  • Custom sizing of inline frames for displaying the map on your own site. Simply changing the pixel dimensions in the iframe code doesn't work, and the column widths of most blogs are too narrow for the default iframe. {Update: Ken kindly pointed out that this is indeed possible, and the method is explained on the site. Thanks, Ken!}
This is such a great little app, and the Quikmaps blog is humble enough not to take the mashup too seriously at this early stage. But this application would be a tremendous addition to the regular features of Google Maps if the two could be integrated together within the search-based bias. This is one of those occasions where a buyout seems like an obvious and satisfying solution - Google should pull out the checkbook and start talking to QuikMaps about a quick acquisition and integration into the Google Maps engine so we can have the best of both worlds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quikmaps updated its blog today and now supports video and image links. They posted an example at