Thursday, April 5, 2007

Make your own Google map

Google today updated it's mapping application to allow you to create your own maps. You can add place marks, lines and polygons to a map. I gave it a try.

Grand Teton Backpacking trip

My first attempt was to make a map of a backpacking trip we did a few years ago.

In Google Earth I was previously able to import actual GPS data for the trip which included some sections of the route itself, plus various waypoints I recorded such as our camp locations. I was pretty satisfied with the results in Google Earth, but sharing it on the web involves putting a KML file someplace that needs to be downloaded and then loaded into Google Earth, if they even have it. So, being able to display this on Google Maps would be cool.

For sometime you have been able to do this. In Google Maps, simply put the KML file on a webserver and then point Google Maps at it by entering the URL into the search field.

Here is the gt.kml file on my webserver displayed in Google Maps.

Pretty good and anyone can follow that link. It displays the elements in a hierarchy of data just as it was arranged in Google Earth. But no photos. Hmmm...

So today I tried to do the same thing in the My Maps feature on Google Maps and it was initially a no-go right from the start. The reason is there seemed to be no way to recreate that route simply by staring at the satellite imagery.

In fact, there are two solutions for this which escaped me on the first pass. The first is that in Map view, Google Maps will actually display hiking trails for national parks as a dotted line! Who knew?! Tracing the trails leads to a pretty nice route. The second thing I didn't realize was that I can display the KML file at the same time as I'm drawing within My Maps. There's a link that will Clear Search Results when you don't want to see it anymore. When this data is displayed you can even click on place marks from the KML file and it gives you the option of adding it to My Maps. Cool! Unfortunately you don't seem to be able to do this for routes.

Here is my attempt, displaying the backpacking trip with the My Maps interface.

Adding photos was pretty easy. The editing of the bubbles that appears when you click on a place mark is really nice. I was able to quickly add a few images from my smugmug album of this trip.

All in all a successful little project even though the way to import data is pretty obscure.

San Francisco Marathon route

Then I turned to a different project. I tried to make a map of the San Francisco Marathon route. This project suggests many problems with My Maps.

Firstly I began by drawing the entire 26.2 mile course. This took quite some time as the interactivity of the map was slowed right down. Eventually I started to use the Overview window in the bottom corner to move the window and this worked much better. In addition, the line drawing has some wacky display issues, often drawing the rubber band dots in the wrong direction from the previous point or sometimes in a completely wrong place. But the actual line placement always worked. It's nice that you can edit the points later, but how about right when you make a mistake while drawing a 26 mile route. I was able to fix problems later.

Secondly I added place marks for the mile markers and for the water stations. This worked well and it was nice to change the icons and have the next place mark remember the previous place mark's settings. Nice work flow detail.

But then I tried to save it. Hitting the save button seemed to do nothing. Trying to navigate away from the page warned me I was going to lose unsaved changes. I clicked save again and gave it 5 minutes. No feedback as to if it was trying to save, or just failed to save. Eventually I went back to My Maps to see if I had anything to show for the past 45 minutes work. It turned out I only had my place markers. The whole route was gone!

Normally, this is when I'd give up and never use this again. But I did try again and added the route mile by mile instead of one long route. And I saved as I went. And this worked out fine.

The result is here.

So now you'd think I'd have a nice map of the San Francisco Marathon course. But instead, Google Maps has divided it all into two pages, meaning all the mile markers which are first are on one page along with about 13 miles of the course, while the other 13 miles is on a second page. It displays them as one long list of all the pieces and there's no way to group anything or form any kind of structure like the import of the KML file displayed. When you export the map to Google Earth it only outputs what's on the current page. It shouldn't do this! It should export the whole thing not just part of it!


I think that My Maps is a cool feature and it ended up working well for the first project. But a combination of bugs, the failure to save, and the poor final result (in terms of the display of elements on the left hand side as a long list, divided into pages) means this is just not ready for all but the simplest maps.


MK said...

i'm not sure if you've checked out . it allows you to map your routes and save them in a database, which i'm assuming (maybe falsely) that you would then be able to share them directly with the url. however, i don't know anything about adding pictures along the way.

the site can be slow, but i've made it work for me a few times and it's great for mapping out local running routes.

mk #3349

Peter said...


Yes, I checked out a few of these sites and they are super cool for figuring out routes of different distances. A few of them really didn't like having too many points. My favorite though is Great training log site (that's free).

This new Google Maps thing unfortunately is no real use to runners because it doesn't even give a distance.

I'm not sure what this post is really about. Mostly an experiment. My idea was more like being able to make a map based journal of a trip or something.

Then I tried the SF Marathon route just to see how well it worked for something more complicated. Turns out not that great! Oh well.