Map thyself

{Carnival! There’s a journalism blog carnival under way, hosted — if you can wrap your head around that concept — by the folks at Scribblesheet, some sort of collaborative writing tool I haven’t had a chance to look at yet. Here’s a review of their product at the Online Journalism Blog.}

I’ve written pretty extensively about the merits of using free online tools to embed, well, just about anything, in an online news story. Here are two map-based examples from opposite ends of the spectrum:

In the major metro disaster scene category, we have The Oregonian’s coverage of what looks like a pretty hardcore wind and rain storm this week, with all the photos, multimedia, and many stories aggregated on a Google map that a Web Producer* built the complicated way: updating a KML file and embedding the map created by it.

Here’s a snip of what the page looks like today:

Oregonian Storm Map 2007

The headlines on the left are being pulled off of RSS feeds from a couple different sections of the news site; the photos on the right are from a Flickr collection of photos by staff photographers. (Any contributed photos here? Why not a call for readers who use Flickr to tag their photos something common and pull that feed?)

It’s easy to navigate, with lots of content (including video that plays in an embedded Brightcove player in the pop-up from the spot on the map – always nice to see that), and once the files are put together, it’s not difficult for a producer to update the map.

At the other end of the continuum we have my local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, filling a hyperlocal need with a map of where to find houses and businesses decked out with lights for the holidays.

Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Map 2007

I love it. In fact, I live here, and I’m planning to use the map as a guide to take my family out to see the lights.

The folks in Santa Cruz (full disclosure: I worked at the Sentinel for a year) used ZeeMaps, a free map-building tool where you can add content to a map, embed it in your site, and most important for this exercise, allow your readers to add points on the map themselves.

Which means the map is an interactive, dynamic source of information for your community.

There are more than a few sites to help you get this job done. Check out FMAtlas or MapBuilder or even the ‘My Maps’ feature in Google Maps.

And if those tools are old news to you and you’re ready to go a little deeper down the rabbit hole, here’s the place to start learning about rolling your own embedded map.

Need more inspiration? Check out this list over more than 1,000 Google Maps mashups.

*The Oregonian Web Producer in question was Mark Friesen of, who needs to update his blog.

8 thoughts on “Map thyself”

  1. Ryan,

    As the guy behind The Oregonian’s effort, thanks for the link!

    I had wanted to solicit reader photos through e-mail, Flickr, etc., but we were so slammed, I just didn’t get to implementing that. I wish I’d taken the time to do that.

    I had also considered using MyMaps and embedding that in the page instead of the roll-my-own-KML route (especially since you’re no longer stuck with just the cheesy Google markers) , but MyMaps has always been flaky with embedding video in infowindows. Also, you’ve got a lot more flexibility with the styling of infowindows when you do it on your own.

    MyMaps did recently implement collaborative editing, though, so now you can set up a map that anyone can edit. That could come in handy. I think the ZeeMaps and Mapbuilder folks may be on a bit of shaky ground if Google keeps co-opting their features.

    I do like ZeeMaps’ PDF concept, but Mapquest? And $14.95? Ouch!


  2. I knew there was a reason I put that asterisk in there after Web Producer – I wanted to know if you did this all by your lonesome or if there were a bunch of folks on the case before I gave you sole credit. 😉

    And wow, I hadn’t seen the price tag on the PDFs yet. That’s not sane.


  3. I was going to post a question to twitter about photo mapping, but figured I’d do one more Google search. And then this came up. Haha.

    Thanks, Ryan. Always a big help! The API tutorial is a great link.


  4. What is the best way to transition between online maps and print maps? What options do others use to create high quality maps for print publication?

    It’s too bad we can’t take a Google map and print it. Some newspapers have had success with purchasing their own custom vector maps that can be edited in Illustrator.

    There is an easy-to-use program called Map Studio for Media but it is expensive because it covers the whole world. But it works great to create custom maps. You enter your information and then it downloads an editable EPS.

    What other options are available for newspapers looking to present map information visually in print? What programs/software do others use?


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