We use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) extensively at Gray Hill Solutions and I just plain like maps. They can communicate a lot of information elegantly. I've been using three different services for mapping on the web over the last few years. They are Plazes, Platial, and Google's newer entry My Maps.
I thought I'd share a few maps and discuss the services. A bit of a disclaimer, both Plazes and Platial have sent me Swag and Google is really big and could squash me like a bug so I'm naturally terrified of them.
I've been on Plazes since Summer 2005. It tracks your presence via IP address which works well for most places (not at a T-Mobile hotspot any more). I've logged my presence in Plazes in the US, Canada, Japan and Hong Kong.
Plazes used to let you map all the places you'd been in the last month, year and lifetime. I wish that they didn't get rid of that feature, I really loved it.
As far as a gameable system, it's a fun one, you get points for discovering places, and a bit for reviewing and ranking them. You also get points for new countries and new cities.
The funny thing is, now I've got this problem. I subscribed to T-Mobile's Hot Spot account so I could easily find connectivity wherever I travel. But now I don't want to use it anymore, because T-Mobile's network configuration isn't compatible with Plazes.
Plazes also comes with a nice desktop app called Plazer that lets me auto-track where I am and then transmit that vital information to my blog.
You've seen many posts about Platial here. Hands down, Platial has the highest potential of any tool currently out there to help blogging evolve into something more than a chatter tool.
This is a food diary of sorts as I eat my way around the planet. I'm afraid that my food criticism is an evolving art form in and of itself, and I haven't quite found my voice.
But Platial gives me tools to map locations and then incorporate those into an ongoing blog. Platial also provides a portable mapping utility that you can incorporate into your other blogs or web sites. Click on the map there to go straight to my food blog.
Google sits and watches and then implements thinly. Their new My Maps utility allows you to do some things that were perfected at some mashup camps. It's a thin app. It doesn't have the networking tools that Platial or Plazes do, but it makes clean maps quickly. I have created a few maps there.
The first is my walking map. As you can barely see in this smaller map, there are a variety of elements a map maker can employ to tell a story. You have points, lines and polygons. In this map, the big shaded area (a polygon) is my neighborhood, which I'm determined to walk on every street of between now and September.
In the map to the right we can see both the point data, which in this case is my house. It's the little blue flag down there. and then various walking paths I've been taking on my quest for neighborhood pedestrian domination. As you can see by looking at the map above, I've got a long way to go. But I just started on Tuesday, so give me a break.
Also here we can see the additional data one can get by clicking on a feature on the map. The data is displayed directly on the map and can be created with Rich Text, so there's plenty more formatting that can be done.
Google's My Maps doesn't include the blogging power of Platial or the flexibility of externally linking to specific objects. So it's got a ways to go before they catch up with Platial.
But they do have multiple data types, which neither Platial nor Plazes can offer.
It's exciting to see the slow integration of spatial communication and blogging. Recently people have been lamenting about what will come next in blogging's inevitable evolution. I'm certainly hoping that in our quest to add more crap to our blogs (video, audio, etc) we look closely at adding more information.
Both video and audio are very slow ways to impart a message. Maps, however, can be very effective at relating huge amounts of information very quickly and in a very small space.
Blogged at my house in Seattle with Live Writer