Google has just released a significant update to Google Maps which allows anyone to, in a sense, create their own maps “mashups” – or what they call “My Maps“. Google was kind enough to demo the new features to me on Wednesday. Look at Google Maps for a new tab on the left which lets you view and create “My Maps“. The user interface for creating content is point and click and uses many of the same approaches and functionality as seen in Google Earth. For example, you can create placemarks, paths, or shapes. For descriptions, you can even use a familiar rich text formatting mode to dress up your descriptions, or use HTML if you prefer. The end result of this new update is that Google Maps and Google Earth are coming closer together in many respects.
The really interesting aspect to the announcement is that the underlying data is all KML! KML is the file format for Google Earth content – and now Maps too. This means you can create your maps and then click on the “KML” in the upper right of the map and immediately view the content in Google Earth. Furthermore, when you search for content you will not only be able to get local business search results, but also get KML search results (just like the recent KML search update for Google Earth). Look for a “See user-created content” link after the other results – it only appears when there is relevant content searched in the current view (see example).
When you first load Google Maps and go to the “My Maps” tab, you will be presented with some example public maps called “Featured content” (sound familiar GE users?). These examples were actually the result of a contest held internally at Google. The prize for the contest was a Nintendo WII, and apparently the results of the competition was much bigger than expected. Here’s a direct link to the first featured map (documenting a trip along Route 66). And, here’s a link to the same thing in Google Earth (you could get to this by clicking the KML link in Google Maps while viewing the previous link).
To create your own map, just click on the link under the “My Maps” tab which says “Create new map“. You will see four little icons just to the right of the zoom/pan controls on the upper left of the map (see the screenshot above). These icons should look somewhat familiar to regular Google Earth users. They allow you to “Add a placemark“, “Draw a line“, or “Draw a shape“. This is all point and click, and works pretty intuitively. When you create a placemark and mark it on the map, you get a little bubble which lets you add a title, and a description. Again, very similar to GE. Just above the description, you can click on “Rich text” to get an interface to add “bold“, “italics“, etc. GE doesn’t have that capability – yet. Once you are done, you can save your map. You also have the option to choose whether your map is “Public” or “Unlisted“. If you choose “Unlisted‘ it won’t be searchable. If you choose “Public” your map won’t be searchable for a few weeks until Google next updates its search indices (just like with the Google Earth Community layer).
[UPDATE: Here’s a video by CNET which shows how to use My Maps to create a map.]
Here’s a few initial thoughts about the impact of the new “My Maps“:
This is a nice new capability which will result in even more user-contributed content . It is also very clean and easy to use, and is available with Google-style interfaces. I especially like the “KML” link appearing on Maps which lets you view the content in Google Earth.
Using KML underneath is a fantastic move. It means all content is easily available not only to Google Maps, and Google Earth – but also to any other mapping or virtual globe application which supports KML. You can also load KML files into Google Maps (just put the URL to a KML file into the Maps search).
Hopefully, the new KML searching capability will evolve over time to make it easier for people to determine whether there is already similar content available for the same location. Currently, the best way would be to use Google Earth and turn on the “Google Earth Community” layer. My current concern is that people will begin using the new My Maps feature and start re-inventing content which is already available (how many more public placemarks do we need to the Eiffel Tower?). This has already been a problem with the GEC layer.
The new My Maps feature is great for those who don’t have the technical skills to create their own mashup. But, there were already many mashup web sites which have provided similar capabilities (for creating your own maps) using custom coding and the API interface. I suspect some of these mashup makers are going to be disappointed that their efforts will soon be overshadowed by Google incorporating this capability built-in. But, I’m afraid that is just the result of progress in this case. Those who have even more functionality (e.g. Tagzania which allows you to tag placemarks and has handy URL shortcuts and embedding capabilities) will still have a role.
Other competing mapping applications (e.g. Windows Live Local/VE) may have similar functionality for enabling people to save/create geospatial content (Microsoft calls them “collections”). But, the underlying KML format combined with Google’s ability to search KML is going to form a very powerful combination.
Some of the capabilities in My Maps (like rich text formatting) are not even available in Google Earth. I’m sure Google plans to upgrade GE to have these features so capabilities are more uniform. I particularly want the ability to embed videos in GE placemark descriptions. Of course, I also want video in 3D models, but that may have to wait for a future major upgrade to GE.
I’m going to have a list of suggestions of things for Google to consider for future versions of these interfaces. There are so many possibilities suggested by the fact Google is now bringing Google Maps and Google Earth closer together.
We live in interesting times for the continued rapid advancement of geospatial content – aka maps. Thanks Google!
About Frank Taylor
Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was first released. He has worked with 3D computer graphics and VR for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank completed a 5.5 year circumnavigation of the earth by sailboat in June 2015 which you can read about at Tahina Expedition, and is a licensed pilot, backpacker, diver, and photographer.
I’m in that Christmas spirit all of a sudden.
Adam Schneider says
Wow, that IS big news. I’m experiencing some minor glitches with their “KML” link; it doesn’t seem to pick up edited colors until after you’ve clicked on things a bit more.
Good thing I recently added support for colored polylines to GPS Visualizer…
Jason Birch says
Very cool stuff (just noticied it myself).
Just in case anyone for Google reads your blog (grin):
– Please, please, please allow upload of GeoRSS or KML or GeoJSON to pre-populate a MyMap.
– Allow extraction of the data in MyMaps (is it really stored natively in KML? Ick… ) via an API, and allow linking to it as GeoRSS, and as GeoJSON (http://wiki.geojson.org/GeoJSON_Features). Better yet, use Google Base as your back end data store, and extend the Base APIs to extract full geometry, and allow for GeoRSS and GeoJSON output.
– It’s great that you can click on a placemark that comes from a GeoRSS feed and “Add to MyMaps”. However, this does not work with lines or polygons. You can’t click on them, and when you open up their balloontext by clicking on the item in the sidebar, the “Add to MyMaps” option is not there.
I think that this is a really great step. When combined with the changes recently announced at Microsoft (publishing as GeoRSS) and at Yahoo Pipes (JSON raw input!) there are lots of opportunities opening up. Traditional geo-folks won’t know what hit them. Metadata’s out the window, but then that’s what happened to the Web and Search solved that problem…
So… How much do I get paid to add Google AdWords to my self-hosted KML? 🙂
this is, indeed, awesome. Just yesterday I was wishing for this behavior. I went over to MS Live and created a “collection” as I’ve done before, but I am always dissapointed with the capabilities of Live Collections. They are functional, but are not nearly flexible enough.
Now to really shake up the mash-up world, Google needs to allow these Maps to be embeddable in other websites. Also, it would be nice to be able to specify an external source for the mapping data (Google Spreadsheets, anyone?).
Also notice that you can right-click on a map to create markers or shapes. Unfortunately, you still can’t create directions this way (i.e. right click to “Start Route Here”)
There is a new feature on Microsoft Virtual Earth. You can export your “Collection” of markers to GeoRSS.
But I really prefer “My Maps”, it’s HUGE! 🙂
Luistxo - Tagzania says
This is a challenge for Tagzania, but on the other hand, the move may help extending the idea of “personal geography”, which I think still is strange to the majority of Internet users. And that’s the terrain for Tagzania to harvest users, if we keep adding features that are powerful and simple.
Then, we try to combine that with sound technical decisions, not trying to improvise “cool” things just because they’re cool.
For instance, today routes are also available as GeoRSS, of the GML flavour (Geographic Markup Language) to be precise. That’s geek jargon that the average user won’t understand, but we believe that attaching to standards is also important on the long term. And we’re here for the long term.
tim waters says
Very interesting, makes the publication of people’s data via “My Maps” like Live Locals “Collections” much easier. One question – what can we do with the data? Wouldn’t they be classed as “derived works”?
What are the licences, copyright, terms of the data people create and publish and share with these tools?
Regarding KML: I do not think that the underlying “file format” is KML. Everything is probably stored in a database in a different format, and KML is just another export format….Even the internal format used by MyMaps is not KML.
I have a query. I work for a non profit organisation in Uganda. I doubt this is the right place to post a question but I’ll see if I get a response.
I want to create a web based map, of refugees we work with, which will display videos or pics should you click on a waypoint. Can I do this with Google Earth?
The way I was thinking so far is this…
Bring in my 1000 waypoints 100 at a time into Google Earth Plus creating a .kml after each one.
I’ll post these on a website and bring each into Google Maps where I can link them to web based pic and vid files.
Once I connect the media files I can transfer again back to G Earth.
You think this will work?
I’m only an apprentice geek when it comes to GglEarth so I’d appreciate your help.
Thanks a tonne
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Edward A Adelman says
1 map only?