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San Francisco Oil Spill Maps & Wishing For Better Community Map Search Tools
Trying to figure out the impact of
week’s oil spill in San Francisco Bay, which happened after the container
ship Cosco Busan hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge? There are maps to the
rescue! Links to them below, along with some observations on the difficulty in
finding community-built maps like these in Google Maps.
Both maps below come
via a blog post from Google’s Lat Long Blog today:
San Francisco Bay Oil Spill November 7, 2007: From KCBS TV, shows slicks,
beach closures, areas affected, and more.
Aftermath of the oil spill: From the San Francisco Chronicle, this lists oil slicks and other related information. Click on an item to
view pictures from the area.
It’s nice to see map building tools being put in service of explaining the
news, as worked so well with last month’s fires in Southern California (see
our Mapping The Southern
California Fires post). However, it makes me wish the tools would allow maps to be named
in a more user-friendly fashion.
Our Google My Maps:
Mashups For The Masses post covers how Google’s
feature lets anyone create maps, such as those for the oil spills. But Google
itself will give those maps an insane URL. Consider the URL for the KCBS map from above:
What a mess. Why not let people create a custom map, then give it URL that
no one else is using, like:
The same ought to be true for the profiles of map builders. Why not make the
URLs use the same name as the person’s user name, rather than some user ID
Google Maps Now
Offers User Profile Pages from Barry Schwartz explains how My Maps profiles
were launched last month. Here’s his profile URL, where you can see all maps
But if you go to any individual map he’s made, like
this one, you’ll see it says it was created by "rustybrick," which is his
username. So why not make this for his profile:
Imagine how helpful that would be for people who want to see all the news
maps created by an organization over time. Rather than them being scatted under
the personal accounts of those at news organizations, and using cryptic user
IDs, they’d have names and URLs that make sense.
Meanwhile, I especially hope the search features for Google’s My Maps material improves. Want to find the maps above? A search for
oil spill doesn’t cut it, since Google Maps also does double-duty for Google
Local — which means business listings dominate the page.
Way down at the bottom, after all the business listings, you’ll see a "See
community maps" link (Google
Maps Adds "Community Maps" To Default Map Searches explains this more, with a screenshot). Click on that, and now you can drill into oil spill
results that are community built. However, neither of the two maps above
come up, since it’s neither ranked by time nor geography.
OK, how about
san francisco bay oil spill? That gives a much better grouping of
results, though it turns out that some of the "maps" listed are parts of
bigger maps (such as
this coming up first, being part of
this larger map). Neither of the two major maps above come up first, drowned
out instead by pieces of larger maps.
How about advanced searching? Sorry, there is no advanced search feature. I
couldn’t believe it — but unless I’ve completely missed it, you have no ability
to use a form to search much of the My Maps / Community Maps area or, after the
results appear, filter out "pieces" of maps or sort by date / updated status.
Yes, there is a search box on the top of the
Google Maps Directory.
However, that only searches against maps that Google has deemed worthy of
inclusion. A search for
there brings up nothing.
In contrast, Microsoft’s Live Search Maps
also offers the ability for people to build custom maps. These are called
Collections. From the Live Search Maps page, I can click on the Collections link
under the search box to search against only community content. Of course, for a
search on "oil spill" for the location of "san francisco," I get no matches —
probably because few realize Live Search has customization features (See these posts
from Microsoft for more:
III. The tools are excellent, I’ll add — though they suffer the same cryptic
URL problems as Google’s).