Introduction to making maps online

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 In public works, we rely on maps on a daily basis. We use them to plan our projects, locate assets and information, and display information. Long before computers arrived on the scene, the job of creating maps for our departments was performed by technicians or draftsmen. Today maps are typically drawn with the use of a computer by a CAD or GIS technician. But technology is increasing to the point where almost anyone with Internet access can easily create a map. While we will always rely on our CAD/GIS staff to generate official maps and data, not every map we need has to meet this level of accuracy and detail. What if you just want a quick aerial map showing the streets with a highlighted area of interest?Create a New Google map

One of the more obvious mapping tools online is Google Maps. Many people use this service to help find directions or locate an address. But if you go to the Google Maps site and click on the “My Maps” button (located right next to the “Get Directions” button), you are given the option to create and share your own maps. If you choose to create a map, you will be presented with a prompt to name your map, fill out a description, and designate if your map will be public (open to anyone) or unlisted (shared only with people who receive the map's URL). There is also an option to “Import.” Importing data, which can be done at any time, allows you to add information to your map. However, this data must be some type of georeferenced format and is restricted to a KML, KMZ, or GeoRSS file with a maximum size of 10 MB.

Once your map is created, you can begin customizing your map by clicking the “Edit” button. This adds a few tools to the map area: a hand to use for moving the map around, a placemark to be used to indicate points, and a line tool to draw lines and shapes. After selecting the placemark or line tool, you just click the map to set the point or begin the line. When you are done, a box will pop up allowing you to fill in details about your point, line, or shape. As you create different areas on the map, a list of these is generated on the left side of the screen under your map title.

When you are done with your map, you can use the buttons in the upper right area of the map to print out a copy, send a link to it through email, or copy code to embed it on a Web site. The embed code is useful for those who have a blog or other online site that allows pasting of HTML code. There is also an option in this area to resize the embedded map. Most people in public works will probably be more interested in printing.

If you plan to use Google Maps for your work, I would highly recommend checking out Google's Permission Guidelines. There is one section of this document offering the following advice that seems related to our specific use of the maps:

Basis for contractors' or environmental consultants' reports: Conforming with the general guidelines above, if the analysis of the scene in question has been created using Google Maps or Earth, you may use the Content in printed materials. You may not extract Content for derivative uses that do not relate to the products, such as for further editing within another drafting, desktop publishing, or GIS application.”

And stay tuned to our blog because there are many other uses of Google Maps and other online mapping tools that we will explore in future posts. Meanwhile, we'd love to hear if you've done anything cool for work using Google Maps. Just post a link to your map in the comments or email us the link, and we can post them in future articles.



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About the Blogger

Pam Broviak

thumbnail image A former senior editor of PUBLIC WORKS, Pam Broviak publishes the Public Works Group Blog at (All views expressed in this blog are her own and not those of PUBLIC WORKS.)