Hacking Google Maps

Ever since Google released their Maps site, people have been creating “mashups,” overlaying all sorts of data on the U.S. map or parts of it. Last month CNN ran a story about these Google Maps tinkerers, and the weblog Google Maps Mania announces new mashups as they appear on the web. The best of the new sites tap into the flexibility and power of Google Maps to allow visitors to click and drag around an area and zoom in and out of any location. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • gMaps Pedometer: Double-click points on the map to measure a route. This site is great for runners who want to measure their training distances. If you want to see what this looks like in use, take a look at the 3.2 mile bus route I take to work each morning.
  • gCensus: Get U.S. census data—population, housing units, land area, and water area—for any slice of the map. Zoom in on your neighborhood to see how many people liver there.
  • Google Maps Transparencies: Cool page that blends the street map view and satellite view into a combined view. “Click and drag anywhere, just like normal Google Maps, and see how the Map View matches the Satellite View (or vice-versa). Control the level of transparency with the slider control at bottom.”
  • Housing Maps: View homes for sale or apartments for rent that have been listed on craigslist. Choose a city (from a limited list) and price range to see where your next home may be.
  • Iraq War Casualties: “This page shows the progession of US military casualties from the Iraq war. Each click of the (+) displays 30 more casualties, starting from the beginning of the war.” Click an icon to see a soldier’s name, rank, home town, and date and place of death. The interface is a little frustrating because you have to start with zero casualties and work your way up in 30-soldier increments, instead of allowing you, for example, to instantly see the map with all casualties to date. Still, it’s an interesting and sobering site, well worth checking out.
  • Chicago Crime Database: See where crimes have been committed in the Chicago area, and get fairly detailed information about them. You can filter the items that appear on the map by type of crime, date, street, police beat, type of location (e.g. ATM, gas station, bowling alley), and so on. They should have one of these for every city.
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8 Responses to Hacking Google Maps

  1. I have a google map of WiFi locations in and around Grand Rapids at http://grwifi.net/gmapsfunction

    I’m still working on what the best implementation might be like. I’m hoping to pretty soon have an option to display results of a search on a map, which I imagine will be more useful than plotting everything from the outset.

  2. Karl says:

    Very cool, James! Thanks for the link. That map just might come in
    handy some day. By the way, a couple of the icons—for Z’s and
    Four Friends—look like they’re a block or two off.

  3. StealthKDDazzler says:

    I wonder if anyone knows of a site that charts those casualty statistics in a population cartogram.  Creating my own is beyond my competency and schedule, and I don’t think google maps could be adapted to account for population density.


  4. Matt Van dyk says:

    Very cool.  The sort of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy Google
    has towards hacking of its mapping program is remarkably similar to
    that which TiVo had towards TiVo hacking (officially a violation of the
    service agreement, but subtly encouraged) before it overtly sponsored
    it by having a contest.  Turning all amateur hackers on earth into
    unpaid Google (or TiVo) “idea makers” is a remarkably good idea that
    more traditional enterprises (i.e. Microsoft) are simply missing out
    on.  The ultimate Google Maps hack, though, is provided by Google
    itself — Google Earth.  Take Google Local, Google Maps, the
    satellite images from Keyhole, mix them all together, and you’ve got a
    seriously killer app.  It’s really neat.

    P.S.  James, the GR area Wi-Fi map is a GREAT idea.  Good work and thanks.

  5. Karl says:

    Interesting comparison, Matt. And actually, Google is following along the same trajectory, as they’ve recently released a Google Maps API
    to allow developers to easily add Google Maps to their sites and have
    their way with them. It’s funny, though–while I love to play around
    with this type of thing on the computer, I haven’t really gotten into the TiVo
    hacking craze. Not sure if it’s because I’ve been conditioned by the
    television medium to act more passively toward it, or because I’m more
    afraid of messing something up with it, or because TiVo works so well
    all by itself without any hacks. PVRBlog has a list of TiVo hacks, if anyone is interested. There’s even one for showing Google Maps on TiVo. Now that’s some mad hacking synergy.

  6. Matt Van Dyk says:

    Yeah, interesting.  To continue the analogy, the release of the
    API is just like when TiVo released the SDK (for the desktop app
    anyway).  I wonder if Google is running into the same sort of
    resistance with their data source.  TiVo obviously doesn’t exactly
    get full cooperation from the networks, and I wonder if Google is
    drawing any flak from NavTeq (or whomever provides the map data) for
    the indirect licensing of their product to Joe Anybody.  In any
    event, the cool stuff that results works out well for us endusers.

    In the unlikely event you didn’t know this, there are problems with how
    your site displays in IE 6.0 — particularly with the comment
    posting.  In fact, I wasn’t able to use IE to make either of these
    comments.  Just thought you might want to know.

  7. Karl says:

    Thanks for the heads-up, Matt. I was oblivious to the IE6.0 problem,
    but I think I managed to fix it over the weekend. If anyone continues
    to experience problems with the site, feel free to send me a note.

  8. Aunt Ginny says:

    This is very cool! Kinda sci-fi to someone who was born in the first part of the 20th century! Going from the maps to the photos is incredible. I’m going to spend a lot of time playing with this. Thanks, Karl!

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