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Tom Meagher


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Maps, maps, maps

It seems the Internet has done as much for amateur cartographers as it has for budding pornographers.

As I promised earlier, I have a few resources to share on mapping, particularly of the Google Maps variety. I had actually been planning on posting this for the last few days, when I noticed this mention the Analytic Journalism blog of Google’s new feature that allows users to embed a personal Google Map into a Web blog using just a tiny snippet of HTML. This is a feature that’s long overdue, and should make all of the hub-bub over map mash-ups all the more accessible for the average user.

I almost wish they had offered such a feature last year when I made my first Google Map. I was writing an investigative project about the city of Paterson selling off its property tax liens against vacant lots to a third-party investor. I decided to take the database I had already built, and with a little help from Excel, I was able to add the lines of code that let me dump it into a map using the Google Maps API. Without ever having worked with an API in my life–just a little bit of rudimentary HTML–I was able to learn the code and whip up the map in the span of a couple days. Most of that time was spent on the hardest part: driving around town with a laptop on my passenger’s seat and a photographer in the back taking pictures of each of the 160+ properties on the map. I thought it came out great.

Adding a Google Map to your story (or a Yahoo Map for that matter) is considerably easier than working with ArcGIS to produce the static maps you often see in the paper. And its a great Web feature that readers seem to dig. If you want to learn how to start tinkering with the API, here’s a few good starter pages:

Also, here’s a few other of my favorite recent mapping toys:

  • The Gmap Pedometer helps you find routes (and distances between destinations) as the crow walks, block by block. This is great for living in New York City. I use it to plot out my weekly bike rides across the Outer Boroughs.
  • Finally, is a great resource that I seem to use again and again for mapping projects large and small. If you have a lot of points (more than a few hundred), it can take some time, but it’s free and it’s easy, like all good maps (and graphics in general) should be.