October 20, 2005

Google Map Mashups [4:43 pm]

A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code

You can still search Google Maps to figure out how to get from here to there, but why would you, when you can use it to pinpoint kosher restaurants in Cincinnati, traffic cameras in Dublin, or hot spring spas anywhere in the United States? How about finding coffee shops in Seattle that provide free wireless Internet access? Or would you prefer to locate the McMansion your boss just bought and find how out exactly how much he paid for it?

An army of programmers, most of them doing it just for fun, has grabbed the software code that generates the distinctive maps with their drop-shadowed virtual pushpins, and combined it with other data like the locations of potholes, taco trucks and U.F.O. sightings, and even the sites of murders and muggings.

The result is Google map mash-ups, the latest form of Internet information repackaged for entertainment and, perhaps, profit. [...]

[...] Why are people doing this? The flippant answer is also the honest one: because they can. Google has revealed the map-generating software, called an A.P.I., or application programming interface. (You can find it at www.google.com/apis/maps/.) And with that A.P.I., a programmer can create a mash-up by combining it with other data - like apartment listings on Craigslist, or demographic data from the United States census. The programming technique, itself a mash-up of programs, is also known as Ajax, for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

[...] The difference, he said, is that it is now even more democratic because it is so simple to do. “It still takes a programmer to write these kinds of Google maps, but it is easier because you can go to another site and copy the code,” he said.

It just got a lot easier. A company started by Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape, hopes to democratize map mash-ups even more. He created Ning.com, which automates the tools needed to create a Google-based map so almost anyone can make one.

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