Custom Community Maps Go Mobile!
Yesterday, Lily posted an article introducing readers to Google's "My Maps" feature, which allows people to construct their own maps, with points, shapes/regions, formatted text, images, video, and more. This easy-to-learn mapmaking tool is being used by many nonprofits to create maps of their communities, their causes and issues, and various other geo-nifty applications.
A few hours after we posted that article, Google announced that the latest version of Google Maps Mobile available for some smartphones now allows users to display their "My Maps" creations on mobile phones, along with additional "layers" of data, like transit lines/stations and traffic for major streets and highways. One interesting custom layer available is the "Wikipedia" layer, which displays nearby points of interest that have been "geotagged" with a physical location on Wikipedia - very handy for tourists, for instance.
Wiki-love aside, it's the ability to display your own maps, such as community resource maps or neighborhood guides, that has all of us at MapTogether really excited! It's one thing to be able to create powerful community maps that you can access from your office, library, or community center - but having these custom maps on a relatively inexpensive mobile platform with built-in searching, geolocation, etc. opens up a world of new opportunities! Nonprofit organizations are already harnessing the power of online mapping of their communities - now they can do so while in their communities, not chained to their desks. So far, we've come up with tons of great ideas that this new feature could provide: geotourism guides, canvassing route databases for political organizations, mapping community service requests, neighborhood digital storytelling apps, etc.
Lots of this stuff is already being done on the web, but doing it on the mobile web, especially with integrated "Where am I?" real-time GPS, can open it up to new users and give it the added relevance of personal location. (For a look at some really innovative nonprofit/community/social-justice mapping projects, check out this year's NetSquared Mobile Challenge project gallery!)
I had to check this new feature out - so I upgraded the Google Maps Mobile software on my phone to the latest version (3.2) and selected the Layers option from the menu. I was prompted to sign in to my Google account to access the "My Maps" layers - a step that's not necessary for public layers such as Traffic or Wikipedia. For this example, I decided to take some screenshots of our current favorite Google-based community resource map, "Our Map of Environmental Justice" created by Chicago's Open Youth Networks and youth from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization. The first screenshot, below, shows the "results list" or index of this particular map.
You can see that we're only looking at the first 100 of the 200+ overall features that comprise this map on the web. I scrolled down but didn't see any way to advance to the next features. However, as far as I can tell, the 100 features presented in the mobile version represent the 100 closest features to my location. I'll have to experiment with this to be sure.
The custom icons associated with each feature on the web version of Google Maps are preserved here in the mobile version - awesome considering how crowded mobile screens can get. You can see that the neighborhood shape (the blue-shaded area) is displayed as well which is great for those organizations that have moved beyond "points" to "polygons" in their mapping projects. We're not (yet) at the point where we can do geospatial queries like "show me all the health clinics in the blue neighborhood zone" but we're getting closer.
Selecting an item on the map or from the results list brings up the Mobile equivalent of the info-bubble:
So of course I had to check out one of the locations on this map that contains embedded YouTube videos - in this case, interviews with local community members about the effects of gangs on their communities. I assumed that Google would just include a link to the actual YouTube video to be launched by my external browser, but...
Yes, you can actually view the embedded YouTube videos directly in the info-bubble in Mobile just as in the desktop version of Google Maps. The video frame was larger than my screen so it's not perfect, but I was still very impressed. This integration may just be because I have the Google YouTube application already installed on my phone - not sure yet.
If you couldn't tell already, I am incredibly geeked about the mapmaking possibilities that these new Google Maps Mobile features bring to the work we do at MapTogether. Part of this, I'll freely admit, is that I'm a classic geek who loves cool gadgets, especially when his existing gadgets get new features for free :) As I mentioned above, however, I think that the possibilities that this feature lends to community and neighborhood level mapping projects are practically endless.
If you develop or are aware of any cool mobile-specific mapping layers for this (or any other useful nonprofit mapping resource that's not already in our resource library), let us know via our contact form.