Google My Maps: Map Mashups for All

The maps mashup landscape changed forever yesterday with Google's announcement of My Maps, a new service which allows non-programmers to easily create maps mashups. With tens of thousands of maps mashups out there already this of course quickly lead to a tremendous increase. And while some of the basic features have been previously available from Microsoft's Virtual Earth and Ask.com, Google's leadership in the space made it the buzz of the blogosphere. In terms of functionality, My Maps offers a good UI for users to place markers, draw shapes and add descriptions. Nice features like the ability to add notes and associate media like photos, audio clips and videos make the service more than just marker placement. You can share maps as either public or private. Each map will get its own unique URL but also it's own KML file. And it's this last part that's very interesting -- as O'Reilly's Brady Forrest points out "They are adding all geo-indexed web pages to their local search ... A web page is geo-indexed via an associated KML file. All publicly shared MyMaps will be in the index. No other search engine does this." And as noted by many this presents a challenge for personal and social geo-centric startups like VC-funded Platial, or smaller Frapper and Wayfaring. Some blame building on the API as the key risk, although the basic challenges they face today would exist if they were built on another vendor's maps or some licensed map service they hosted themselves. Going forward one of the things that will separate the API-driven maps from the millions of My Maps mashups will be the sophistication of integration, degree of dynamic data, and use in higher-value applications. Even true for just some of the fun mashups like the recent flurry of quasi-realtime twitter maps that would still rely on the API. The maps mashup battle has certainly been taken to the next level and this demonstrates what a difference tools can make when a platform technology is moved from solely a developer-centric API realm into a true mass-market. Below is the first example listed here from My Maps, the Oral Histories of Route 66 Map.

Be sure to read the next Tools article: Microsoft Popfly