Make your own KML (for Google Earth)

I have no real way of knowing just how popular the “Download to Google Earth” option is on our geocoder. This because once you load the home page, you could request KMLs all day and I don’t see them as new page views in the logs. I have heard from several people who are using it successfully to create libraries of KMLs, which they then mix and match setting up different colors for different data. (If you want to add your colors, just add a “color” column to your source data and throw in an Hex RGB value for the color.)

KML is pretty cool. It lets you do some amazing things, with a very simple XML based syntax. The great thing about it, is unlike popular GIS formats like an ESRI shapefile, both the data and the rendering information are stored in the KML. This means when you send your KML file to your buddy, he can open it up in Google Earth and immediately visualize it in the same way you do. With classic GIS data, your buddy would need to set up his own rendering parameters, which probably are going to end up different than what you are looking at.

With ESRI’s Arc8 suite, there became a concept of the “layer file” and MXD, both store a pointer to the data as well as the rendering information, however neither store the data itself. ESRI gives you ways of storing information, and storing rendering parameters… but never together. There have been attempts to do this in the past, but they never seem to make it into the standard ArcMap. Word on the street is this will be changing in future versions of the Arc9 suite, but its funny its taken so long to get to that point.

Backwards compatibility are other big problems for ESRI data formats and MXDs. If I save an MXD in Arc9, you will not be able to read it in Arc8. Likewise if I have an ArcSDE 9 database, you will not be able to connect to it in Arc8. This presents huge problems for enterprise GIS users, who are forced to upgrade everyone at once or have dual environments for newer and older versions of the software. Unfortunately this seems to be a problem that won’t be fixed any time in the near future.

Google got it right the first time, whereas ESRI has been doing it for over 30 years now and they still aren’t there. So who is the real map expert?

Google Maps API Version 2.0

Extra extra! Read all about it.

What’s nice:

  • No more page view limits
  • Some memory leak fixes
  • A promise on warning before an ads launch, and promise to not have ads in the near future (though you can bet its coming)

I am a little disappointed (but not surprised) that they don’t have an answer to Yahoo’s geocoding features in their latest release. Maybe we’ll see them as part of some commercial package in the future.

Us and Them

The main goal of our batch geocoding service is not just to provide map coordinates, but also give a quick platform for those wishing to instantly plot map data on the web without any coding. There are several other sites out there that try to do the same. Wayfaring, MapBuilder, Platial, and so on.

I don’t work in a vacuum, I keep an eye on the competition. I really like the interfaces out there. To a certain extent, they all provide unique features that my service does not. My goal with the batch geocoder was to focus on making a tool that is fast, easy, and lets people work with data they already have.

Sitting down and creating a map by hand using one of these other tools takes quite some time. You must add locations one by one on a map. My service dumps the user name and password concept and lets people create and save maps instantly with no barriers.

Can you edit points one by one and move them around by clicking on a map? No you can’t do that. But I question how many people will create useful maps by creating points one by one. There’s only so many jogging maps, or bike ride maps, or maps to grandma’s house before you begin to question the value. Remember its all about the data… and for data to be useful you need lots of it. That’s why standardizing on formats like tab delimited is a good idea.

The user can keep their data in a file or in a database on their system, instead of on a server somewhere. They can easily edit their data, add/remove columns, etc.. No fussing about with some proprietary interface for editing it online.

Anyway, that’s my take on it. If you have feedback please let me know. I am not opposed to the idea of building in some of the tools that the “other guys” offer, but I could spend time in other areas too.