Thursday, December 22, 2011

Map Tales vs Google Earth Tours

Readers who have read my other blog Google Earth Design will know I promote Google Earth Tours (GETs), the ability to record a virtual trip around Google Earth as a good communication tool for maps. I came across Map Tales, a web map based service (More detail on Map Tales) that allows you to create a set of locations linked by a story.  I thought I'd compare the two as I think the idea of GETs on a web map is an interesting idea.

click to open the tour

GETs in Detail: Some key characteristics of a GET (and example above): 
  1. A recording of a virtual flight around Google Earth: camera orientation, location and altitude is recorded throughout and can be replayed. 
  2. Easy to produce simple examples (Click a record button, fly around, click stop recording).   
  3. Layers can be turned on and off 
  4. Pop up balloons with text, images, video clips can be triggered and closed automatically 
  5. To produce them Google Earth is pretty much essential  
GETs advantages over Map Tales:  The Map Tales service shares some characteristics of GETs, like them they are easy to control, produce and pop up information can be added easily (see 2 and 4 above).  A Map Tale differs slightly in that it has 'steps' - a window of information presented for a unique location and the Tale stops at each step.   There are major differences though: 
  • No Layer Control: in a Map Tale layers cannot be controlled which stops the author from useful structures such as having two markers from the map tale visible at the same time in an overview.  This is very useful in helping users track the spatial relationships between the points.  
  • No Paths: Not having layers also means paths, routes and roads can't be added.
  • More Sophisticated:  GETs have a wider range of features including being able to add audio, using streetview, 3D topography and flight speed control.

Map Tales' (see above or full size versionadvantages over GETs : 
However, Map Tales have advantages because they're simpler:
  • No Software: you don't need to install any software  to produce a tale, it's all in the browser.  
  • Stepped controller is an improvement over the VCR control in GETs.  I find when playing a GET I'm often have to stop it at a place.  You can do this with GETs (as in the link from the screen shot above) but you need to add pauses by hand editing the KML.   
  • Editing a Tale: When you've completed your tale you can drag and drop the steps up and down the 'play' list.  This kind of simple editing is not possible in a GET.
  • Look:  The visual look of Map Tales is well designed and distinctive.  For simple tales I think this design adds value but for more complex tales I think the lack of control of the site design (e.g. size of info window) would be a problem.  To embed it above its size is a problem and it looks cramped.
Overall I think Map Tales is a useful example of how a simple form of map based GET could look.  If you want to produce anything but a simple tour I think GETs are definitely the to go.  In addition,  the inability to be able to view more than one marker at once or mark a line route is a serious disadvantage.  However, the ability to edit tales and the stepper control are interesting features and I think with the ability to control layers it could be a useful tool especially in education.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

oMaps, Google Map edits and Google Map Update

Back from my break, had a great time in New Zealand and Australia although my brain still isn't quite in gear again.  Today I've three topics to discuss:

Off 3G Mobile Map use:  While I was away, my iPhone 4 was invaluable for navigating around.  Of course download fees on 3G outside of the UK for me are a daylight robbery so I limited myself to picking up data via WiFi hotspots.  There are two techniques I used:
  • Google Maps:  Navigate to the place you are going whilst on WiFi, so long as you have cached all the data you need, when you're moving in city the blue locator works and you can navigate around as normal.  However, if you only stay on one zoom level whilst on WiFi you can't zoom in when you're on the ground - only the zoom levels you've cached are available.  
  • OMaps:  The OMaps App on iPhone works with OSM data and allows you to define an area and cache all the tiles at all levels prior to getting there.  Its a bit fiddly, the tiles don't download quickly and you have to get the balance right between getting a big enough map and defining an area that's large with an unreasonable download time.  Once you're through these hoops its very useful.
Google on the Ball:  After my recent critique of Google/Bing/OSM maps with respect to the UK Houses of Parliament and Clapham Junction train station Google updated their symbolisation (discussed in more detail below) in both areas.  I suspect the changes to Clapham Junction were part of a broader update but the changes to the symbolisation of the Houses of Parliament look like they are a reaction to my comments and work much better.  That sort of reaction is impressive.

I just checked Bing Maps, no change to their map.   

Google Maps Update:  In the UK, Sweden, Germany and Finland Google have just added a major update to their map.  They point out in the post that map data has improved in terms of 
  • Water bodies 
  • Parks
After a quick glance at the UK map I also note some other changes I think they've made:

View Larger Map

  • More detailed train lines and a change in symbolisation to dashed lines (see above)

View Larger Map

  • Parkland, common land, university campuses, cemeteries are marked by different colored polygons (see above)

More data on a map obviously adds to its value but if the symbolisation is not well thought out you can get problems with visual clutter.  I'll be discussing this update in terms of map usability in a later post.