Google My Maps and Fusion Tables

Fire Science Consortium Mapping Workshop

Compare Google Geo Tools

Google Earth Outreach website

(note: there has been a name change, and Google Maps Engine Lite is now called Google My Maps)

1. Overview

There are many different mapping tools (apps) available to nonprofits and educational institutions. Which tool you use will depend on what you want to do and how much skill you have - they range from very simple (everyone can make a map) to tools that will produce sophisticated custom maps from complex databases (require some programming abilities). 

Two important points for outreach/education/extension - everyone is familiar with using Google Maps for finding their favorite restaurant, so Google Maps are easy for the public, and you can make a map quickly for free and easily embed it in a website. Oh - and everything is free, which is a huge plus for strapped budgets (you can even get the Pro versions for free if you are with a non-profit or educational institution).

Many of you have maps like this one on your websites to show people where your offices are.

Today we are going to take this a couple of steps further and look at how to build maps that are a little more complicated, but still quite easy and very web-friendly. You do not need to be a GIS expert to build maps from databases and insert them into your website.

In talking with members of your consortium I found two needs that we can quickly address: 
1) How do you quickly build a map that gives directions to several locations and embed it in your website? For example, to show people how to find demonstration sites for a workshop.

2) How do you build a map from a database that includes pop-up windows with YouTubes, photos, links, and other rich media? For example, to disseminate information from research that includes data summaries, videos made by extension specialists, etc.

We will use two of the Google Geo Tools today to deal with these needs. The first is very easy and will be most helpful for the first need - Google My Maps. The second will allow you to include information using a database program that can be exported to Microsoft Excel and ArcMap, which is a big plus. Using Google Fusion Tables we can build a database that includes formulas, is easy to sort and filter, and can handle very large, complex data -- you can use it just for database management, but if you have georeferenced data you can also use it to produce a map. 

We will begin with My Maps and then advance to Fusion Tables. You will see similarities, but remember - My Maps is great for quick maps, Fusion Tables is required for mapping large amounts of data. 

2. Google My Maps

Click Here to build a map             

Google My Maps Help

Google My Maps allows you to have many options for styling the map, and it shows you the information in the icon balloons in table form, which makes it easy to edit. Be aware that My Maps is limited, and if you want to make maps that are styled in a more sophisticated way you will need either the Maps Engine Pro (you can apply for a grant) or use some programming (Google Maps API). But we can do a lot with My Maps, and it does not require any special skills.

This link will take you to a map that I made for teachers to help them find their way around the KU campus - it took less than 10 minutes to make the map and embed it on the Google Site:

Example of Google My Maps for directions

Click on the icon in the left corner to get the legend 

Google Map


The map below is one that I made yesterday for this workshop - notice that the base map and icons look different in these two examples. One of the things that we can do with My Maps is change the base map - you might want to make the icons easier to see, or you might want to match the color scheme of your website, for example.

Let me show you some of the editing functions - you can view the map in this website, but you have to go to the actual map to edit it. Note: when you edit the map it automatically updates in every website that it is embedded in.

Here is a screenshot of the important editing functions:

You click on the folder icon to get to the command functions (export, embed, etc.). 

Useful things you can do:
  • click on style to change icons
  • click on data to see the information in the icon balloons
  • click on labels to turn on and off labels
  • click on Base map to change the base map
  • use Add layer to create more map layers that can be turned on and off

Click Here to go to workshop map



The easiest way to build a map is to drop pins and add lines just like you did in the old Google Maps: when you build the map by hand the information you add to the icon balloons will be automatically added to the dataset. 

You can search for a location, drop a pin to mark it and format the icons and icon balloons manually. You can also add directions and paths.






These screenshots show you how to edit the icon balloon and how to find the image and YouTube editor. You can add multiple images as a slideshow, but you only get to display an image (slideshow) OR a YouTube. If you want both in an icon balloon you will need to use Fusion tables.





You can also upload data from an Excel .csv file - but this isn't simple and straightforward unless you have been careful about formatting the Excel file for My Maps. For example, you may have to re-add the image files manually, and the formatting will still have to be done manually.

If you are building a map from a large or complicated .csv file, I would recommend using Google Fusion Tables instead, it is much more sophisticated in dealing with spreadsheet data.


3. Google Fusion Tables


Below you can see an example of a Fusion Table map and the database that generated it. Both the map and the database are very easy to embed in a website - you may have reasons to disseminate the data as well as the map, and Fusion Tables gives you the options of different ways to visualize the data (including a wonderful chart creator and a card view which is useful for museum specimens). For an example of how Fusion Tables and other Google Tools can be used to share data between researchers and the public:

Let's take a look at the Fusion Table that I set up for the workshop - and my apologies if my web searchers turned up old or incorrect information, you can update it and correct it. Make a copy of the Fusion Table to use during our discussion:

Go to Fusion Table for Workshop

Click File>Make a copy (see screenshot below).




You can explore your own copy while we work (that way it won't get locked up by too many people doing different things on the original).


The way you create a map using Fusion Tables is to build the database first, then geocode the location data. You can use a number of different types of location data: street addresses, city names, latitude and longitude, kml files. BUT you can only geocode one column, and you have to have the same type of location data in that column - you can't mix street address and lat/long data, for example (you will need to convert everything to the same thing).

If you want to create a map by dropping pins, you can do this in Google Earth and use the kml file as your location data in Fusion Tables -- this will take more time to demonstrate than we have today, but if anyone is interested let me know. In the same vein you can convert a shp file to kml (using either ArcMap or Google Earth Pro) and use it for the location data.

To edit the Fusion Table click on the row you want to edit, which will give you a pop-up. 



You have to edit each row separately, but if you are doing several rows you can use "Save and edit next" to save time.

When you add a photo, it has to be hosted online - you can't drag and drop from your computer. You need to right click on a PC (control click on a Mac) and "copy image location" ("copy image url" on a Mac). Make sure you copy the url and not "copy image."

To embed a Youtube you need to go to the YouTube website, click Share, and click Embed to copy the embed code (not just the url). The embed code will start with "<iframe." You can also embed from Vimeo - email me if you need help with that.

clicking on the icon you like and copying the name. You have to use the EXACT name (it is case sensitive and the underlines matter). I used the icon called "firedept" for the workshop map.

I will be more than happy to go over Fusion Tables and other tools in much more detail if you would like to have additional webinars or a workshop. Google provides a nice hands-on tutorial Click here for Fusion Table Create a Map tutorial.