San Francisco Oil Spill Maps & Wishing For Better Community Map Search Tools

Trying to figure out the impact of last 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:

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 My Maps 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 number?

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 he’s created:

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 oil spill 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: I, II, III. The tools are excellent, I’ll add — though they suffer the same cryptic URL problems as Google’s).

Related Topics: Channel: Local | Google: Maps & Local | Microsoft: Bing Maps & Local | Search Engines: Maps & Local Search Engines


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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