Chances are that you have used an online map to find something. You were probably looking for directions, stores, or places to eat at. Most of this information comes from computer generated maps and directions, satellite images, and kml files. The generated maps and satellite images are easy to understand, but what in the world is a KML file? I will explain below and also show you how to create your own.
A KML file is a layer of information that you can place on top of a map, usually represented by pins, dots, or circles. So, when you type in a search term using Google maps you get a map with pins all over it. Each one showing you a business that came up in the search. This is possible because “mappers” have begun combining map and business data.
For example, if I have a listing of 200 restaurants and their addresses in the Los Angeles area, I can then combine that data with a map of the Los Angeles. With some quick mashing together I can get the restaurants to be displayed on the map as pins. Combining data sets like this is commonly known as a “mashup“. And, the resulting pins are the KML file.
Some of the really fun stuff starts happening when you mash together all sorts of different data sets. Here are some fun ones: flickrvision, twittervision, sunset tracker (and more), a Nintendo Wii finder, digg/delicious/slashdot combiner, music, more, and more. Take a look at these fun web creations.
Back to KML files…so you know what one is, but did you know you could create one yourself? Google Maps allows you to create your own. I just did one and it was fun. I zoomed into my neighborhood and then began listing all of the local free wifi spots. Of course, I didn’t know everything so I searched and found other user created maps about local free wifi. I added them into mine and now I have a list of about 15 free wifi spots in my area. The best part about the whole thing is that my map is being added into the search for other people to use!
I can imagine that eventually these user created local maps will be more useful than the current computer generated ones. Google is already pioneering this by allowing you to annotate any KML you can pull up. So, for example, you do a search on “car wash” in your local area and get 5 business’. For each pin, you can click on it and perform a series of actions. Including review the place, find their address, phone number, and even have it call them (first calls your phone, when you pick up it is calling the business).
This kind of user generated content really adds to our community knowledge and truly shows off the value of social software. So, take a look at my “free wifi” map and create your own, instructions below:
Create your own Google Map using KML
– Go to Google Maps and click on the tab “My Maps” (you may need to log-in or create a google account).
– Click on the option for “create new map”, give it a title and description, and make it public/unlisted.
– Use the map to find the location you want. On the upper left of the map notice the hand, pin, line, or shape options.
– Click on the pin and place it where you want. Fill out the info-box that pops up and hit ok.
– Save your map and you can come back and update or view it anytime.
That’s it! You have created your own KML layer and your own map. If you made it public it can serve as a reference for other map users. Here are some other options:
– Local shops or businesses: If you want to locate some shops or businesses you can do a search on them. The results will be displayed on the map as pink pins. Click on the pin you want on your map and select “Save to My Maps”.
– View other user maps: If you were wondering what other maps people have created and shared, you can view them. Just enter a search term and then scroll to the bottom of the search results and click on “See user-created content”. Other user maps will appear as letters in blue pins (yours are blue with no letters, but dots).
– Google Maps User Guide to creating your own map