I have at least three reasons why we should address this topic:
- Google Maps (and other web-based map services like MapQuest, MapBlast!...may it rest in peace, and of course Microsoft's also-ran Bing Maps and Bing Streetside) is a geospatial tool, obviously! I'd be remiss if we never touched on Google Maps or something in this category. In fact, web-based services have two big advantage over client-side tools such as Google Earth: You don't need to download and install software, and the datasets live on the web...so again, no need to worry about downloading or otherwise managing data on your own devices.
- As I've mentioned, Google Earth won't be around forever. Google Maps, however, will be...in one form or another. So: In the hopes of not teaching dead technologies, I need to include Google Maps and not just Google Earth.
- Google Earth and Google Maps share a data structure.
- You can flip the Google Maps street map into a satellite image that looks mighty familiar (since it's from the same dataset that Google Earth uses!)
- You can import a KML or KMZ file into Google Maps and get the same data
- You can build a KML or KMZ file in Google Maps, export it, and open it in Google Earth
OK, so if Google Maps is so cool, why do I take up valuable class time with Google Earth? That's a fair question.
- Google Earth is more powerful – it has far more features than Google Maps. Here's a simple example: You can't zoom out to a globe view in Google Maps; it stays a flat map and will not resolve into a globe...unless you shift from the street map view into the satellite view. This leads to my second complaint...
- The interface for Google Maps is not great, or at least it's not great for our purposes (building and manipulating datasets). While I have my complaints about the interface of Google Earth, with just one or two key understandings, it's fine; you can do what you want to do. Google Maps, on the other hand, routinely hides its functions depending upon which particular mode you are in. (Then again: I'm over 40. Maybe I'm just too old to find the mobile-optimized interface intuitive. Please tell me if you find it to be useful / powerful / intuitive.)
- The interface for Google Earth is more stable – the Search box, the Places box, the Layers box, the geospace. New tools have been added, but the basic interface is the same. Google Maps, on the other hand, changes as the mobile landscape changes, since the company wants to optimize it for use on phones and tablets.
Banging around in Google Maps
This is all more complicated than I would like, so I'll demo this through a video. I will identify the key steps, however, via text.
If you want to explore Google Maps as a tool for your project work, the key step is getting into the "My Maps" feature; to get into the "My Maps" feature, you first need a Google account.
Once you are in "My Maps", you can create a new map, which is one or more layers, with each layer containing one or more markup items. The kinds of markup you can create are limited – currently, you can add points and paths...but no polygons, no overlays, etc. (You can also change the base layer – satellite image, terrain map, simple political, etc.)
Once you have created your map, you don't have to worry about saving it – it saves automatically to Google Drive, just like if you were creating a Google Doc or Google Spreadsheet. And just like using a Google Doc, you would next need to share it so that others could see it, once they visit the URL.
One final topic to demo: As mentioned, you can also run kml or kmz in or out of Google Maps. Think of this as another way to share it (export to kml, send to a friend), or as an alternative to building in Google Maps–maybe you want to build in Google Earth (which is more powerful and, to my mind, user friendly), save as kmz, then import that kmz to Google Maps for web-based sharing.