Introduced in 2006, and enhanced continuously since then, Google Maps is not only the slickest of the web mapping services (e.g. MapQuest and Microsoft’s “Bing”), it’s also the premiere web development platform for mapping. From our perspective, the integration between Google Earth and Maps is extremely valuable: it allows you to view maps of the same geography you’re viewing in 3-D on Google Earth, providing information such as stream names which is missing from Google Earth’s own base data sets. You can also send links to map views to others via email (useful if you’re coordinating a trip with friends), and easily embed interactive maps on your website.
Importantly, too, Google Maps and Google Earth share common file formats. Many KML and KMZ files which display on Google Earth will also display on Maps (Though not all – many files which work fine on Earth don’t display on Maps). However, if you use Google’s standard icons, any collection of place markers you create in either either application can be displayed on the other.
We’ll demonstrate this, and some other nifty features of Google Maps below. What follows is a little tutorial about how you could use Google Maps to create a map, load a KML file, and share it with others. To do this on your own, you’ll need a Google Account (it’s free), and be logged in.
As soon as you log in, you’ll see a “My Maps” link near the top left of your screen, next to “Get Directions”. Click on it. If this is the first time you’ve ever created a map on Google Earth, you’ll see a little embedded video (feel free to view it), and a “Get Started” button. Click “Get Started”.
You’ll then be put into “Edit Mode” for a new map. The Title dialog box will now be visible instead of the video:
This allows you to title the map, add a description (especially useful if you intend to make the map “public”, which means it will be indexed in Google Search), and decide if you want to keep it private. In other respects, you can navigate “Maps” the way you always can. Here we’re making a map of NJ Wild Trout Streams, so we’ve navigated to a view of northern New Jersey, and are putting the map into “terrain view”:
For the wild trout seeker, “terrain view” is a critical feature of Google Maps. In terrain view, Google Maps displays physical features such as streams and lakes and mountains. In more detailed views it will also display contour lines. Terrain view doesn’t have all of the information found in USGS topo maps or “The National Map”. It doesn’t show hiking trails and unpaved roads, but it does show most water features, and is therefore very useful to us. Note: the user interface for switching to terrain view may differ slightly depending on what browser you use. Your screen may not match this one exactly.
Now comes the fun part. We click on the “Import” link, just below “My Maps”, which brings up the import dialog. We specify the NJ_WTS.kmz file which can be downloaded from the NJ Streams page:
Click the “Upload from File” button, and voila!, we have a map of NJ Wild Trout Streams:
You click on the “Done” button to save it. Now you can view the map here:
And that illustrates a powerful feature of Google Earth. You can easily send links of maps to others via email. You can embed interactive maps in web sites (see NJ WTS on this website). There are also powerful collaboration features where you can invite others to comment on the map, or designate other people to edit them (try clicking on the “Collaborate” link).
Note, too, you can zoom in on a stream of interest by clicking on the icon, or on the text link in the sidebar. Here we zoom in on “Van Campens Brook”, one of the most famous of the NJ WTS. Then by clicking once on the icon, we bring up the bubble, which allows us to request driving directions:
Enter the a town name (Here we’ve entered “Summit, NJ”), and you have directions:
In this little tutorial, we’ve barely scratched the surface of Google Maps. In particular, there are some very nice annotation tools where you can add labels, and draw areas and routes on maps. Combined with the 3-D power of Google Earth, Google Maps makes the most powerful generally available mapping software for helping you find trout streams, and working with your friends and colleagues.