Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Free Reference Map service

I am launching today my newest creation: free reference map service for publishing and sharing spatial information. I am rushing this release since the end of the year is very close! Currently it only supports spatial data in KML/KMZ and geoRSS format and standard Google base map options but I am planning to add a lot more functionality and content over the coming months. Simple instruction on how to take advantage of available functionality is on free web widgets page. I will highlight here only one thing you really need to know to publish and share your own maps: just reference publicly accessible KML/KMZ or geoRSS file as follows FullURLaddressOfYourFile . It is as simple as that. An example of what you can do with it is below:

Actually, the whole concept behind the service is rather complex (and exciting!) but I will not go into details at this point it time. True, there are many other initiatives, possibly far more advanced, to enable easy creation and embedding of maps but they don’t allow for as much flexibility as I have in mind for my version. My idée fixe with content portability and reusability/repurposing is taking me into uncharted territory… Just consider this option – if you find something of particular interest on a web page, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to “cut it out” and take with you to bookmark just that bit and/or reuse (give another perspective!) in your own online endeavours (whether private or public)? Today I am introducing to the world “detach” concept that will allow you to do just that!

Detach function is a very simple idea, a variation on “link to” if you like, but opens up so many possibilities! If you like the map above, just “detach” it from this page to open it in a new window. Then you can bookmark it or add to favourites for future reference, or shorten the URL with your preferred tool and share via Twitter, or Facebook, or LinkedIn or any other social network – with own commentary and spin! This process can be repeated endlessly… And if you are publishing a blog or forum, you can easily combine a number of layers in a single reference map application to provide your unique content and commentary… Again, this process can be repeated endlessly, and with no need to return to the site where the map was first published…. And if you are a developer, you can insert a script to add content dynamically… Implications of such possibilities are far reaching and will probably be best discussed in a separate post. I will only mention that “detach” is not like “clip content” functionality recently dropped by Google from its range of services when they decommissioned Google Notebook – the emphasis here are on portability of content permitted for sharing by content creator. Various back end services to discover what’s available for reuse are coming in 2011!

I first came up with “detach” concept for YouTube video player app but since it is still in alpha release, I have not widely publicised that option. I intend to enable “detach” functionality for all my widgets so they can be shared and used not only via dedicated personal pages (like iGoogle) or via embedding into web pages but also on their own, without attaching to specific “location” on the web!

As I am yet to make a switch to version 3 of Google Map API this shareable map service is build with version 2 (it has proven quality and reliability although lacks some advanced features of the latest version). Since I am reusing many components from my other applications, it was easier for me to work with that version. I will be switching all my apps to Reference Map platform and upgrade to v3 over the course of next year. Any feedback and comments most welcome!

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