One of my favorite features of Google Maps is the ability to create personalized maps that you can save and share. I've used the feature to map out a route (and more) when we took a road trip through the Western United States in 2011, and to develop a daily tourist itinerary for a visit to Dublin, Ireland in the fall of 2012.
But custom Google maps aren't just useful to individuals. They also have a variety of potential applications for organizations, groups, and communities, which can use them in ways that produce value for both themselves and their individual members/stakeholders.
Google maps are...
Visual. The popularity of infographics and sites like Pinterest and SlideShare clearly demonstrate how much people appreciate visual displays. Google maps are a great way to show geographically-oriented information in a visual way. Here are some examples:
Customizable: As many of the examples above illustrate, the pins on a custom map can include more than simple text. They can include photos and links to websites as well. You can also change the pin icons themselves and format the text in a variety of ways, and even edit the html.
Flexible. Map owners can choose whether to make their maps public or keep them "unlisted." They can also opt to leave the map in its Google location or embed it on their own website (as we have done).
Collaborative. Map owners can invite other individuals to develop and edit individual maps.
Dynamic. As soon as there's a significant change, most maps can be updated quickly and easily.
Engaging. There are many ways to use Google maps to generate interest and dialogue. At the simplest level, people who view the map can rate it or write a comment directly on the map. When the map is embedded in a website, it can also stimulate discussions about the map's contents and/or give people an incentive to take action. Finally, the map and its activity can be shared via social media to regularly invite people to check it out and engage. Here's one of our recent tweets as an example:
Toronto is the seventh urban area to hit 100 members! ow.ly/iaX8v Check out our updated member map!
General Development Tips
You can get super-fancy with Google Maps, which involves lots of coding and technical skills. But as Google themselves noted when they introduced the feature in 2007, it doesn't have to be complicated. You can create a fairly simple map manually, using a free service like this one, or by converting data in an spreadsheet to a KML file (we used BatchGeo for this) and then uploading it (if you'd like specific tips on doing that, please email email@example.com).
Here are a few specific lessons Assistant Community Manager Sean Pearson and I learned from our recent efforts:
If you're experienced with creating custom Google maps and have other tips to suggest, we'd love to hear them. And although we're no experts, we're also happy to try to answer any questions you may have.
- Courtney Shelton Hunt