Monday, November 10, 2014

Cloud Mapping Compared

So after coming back from the NACIS conference I've been looking at cloud mapping again.  At the conference Mapbox, CartoDB and Leaflet and ArcGIS online were getting a lot of mentions.  Compare that to searches from Google trends:

My interpretation is that:

  • The non-experts are using/interested in ArcGIS online or Google Maps Engine
  • The experts are interested in the others.
  • Cloud mapping is on the up (as far as search terms go anyhow)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

NACIS (carto) Conference thoughts

So I'm just back from NACIS (North American Cartographic Information Society) in Pittsburg, USA.  I was a newbie NACISer, I'd travelled over there as I'd heard that it was a good combination of educators, academics, techies, open source enthusiasts and working cartographers.

My everyday tools are adobe firefox and Google Earth (you probably gathered that from the blog title) as I'm primarily concerned with educating 'sub-GIS' audiences like school students*, so it was interesting to find out what everyone else was using and finding which new tools were getting attention.  Of the new tools:
- Mapbox Studio
- cartoDB
were what I noticed everyone discussing, both are cloud services based on cartoCSS - a development of CSS, the code that controls look of web pages.  The difference between then (I was told) was that Mapbox Studio is better suited to finely tuning the look of a base map whereas cartoDB is better at styling data layers.  I did a Mapbox workshop whilst at the conference, it isn't that intuitive but then I don't think either of the tools are good 'first map' starters, they are more tools for those with mapping expertise.

Other tools that are well used are ArcGIS, adobe photoshop and adobe illustrator.  People's workflows generally consisted of processing in Arc then transferring to photoshop/illustrator to fine tune the look.  Very little mention of any of the Google suite of tools.  

There was a really good panel on education, convened by Matt Wilson.   The format was designed to keep people talking too much, I'd term it 'meatspace twitter'.  It largely worked producing some memorable nuggets:
  • Map selfie students produce a map based on their lives as an educational exercise
  • Map global warming or perish : on the future of mapping
  • Maps and mapping is always tied up with the wielding of power
  • Beer fart maps the fashion for 'link bait maps' that get attention but have little value
  • Candy machine gun teaching teaching what students want, in a way they want rather than teaching with academic value
These are what I scribbled down in my notes, more detailed notes 

The discussion also ranged onto the 'future of maps', with discussion moving to privacy concerns about the data being gathered from mobile devices for maps and critical comments about the use of big data.  This paralelled discussions going on in educational technology that I've been following mostly to do with Learning Analytics, interesting that its affecting the two parts of my career in similar ways.

My paper (notes to come) was on the use of map tours (Google Earth tours but for any platform) as an assignment in my undergraduate course fitting in with a session on the use of narrative cartography.   The highlight of the session  for me was Robert Pietrusko's paper on a similar assignment:  

He has design students already skilled at layout and the use of design tools so they produce some fantastic looking tours compared to my students.  I'll be using his student's work to show just what is possible with map tours.

These three are the big companies with serious interests and investments in maps and mapping so it was interesting to see what presence they had.  ESRI had at least 4 delegates at the conference and I heard praise for them from others for integrating with the NACIS community and reacting well to criticism of their products both now and in the past.  Google, lead players in maps as they are, had no presence at the conference, given the effort they've put into producing tools I think it would be sensible for them to be there to promote their stuff and get informed feedback.  I think Apple were there but I didn't come across them, they certainly weren't as visible as ESRI.

Notable People
I was pleased I got to network with Alan McConchie from Stamen, I've been using their maps to illustrate points of good design to my students so it was very useful to hear where he thought things were going in cartography. I also hung out with Anthony Robinson from Penn State who teaches a terrific MOOC on GIS, he has a lot of expertise in education, maps and distance learning so I picked up a lot from him.

Thanks to all the organizers, there's a lot of work done behind the scenes and it made for a great conference.   I never did get to chat to him but Lou Cross clearly has been a great influence on the conference, he has a great sense of humour and is keen to make everyone feel included so last word should go to him:

*as in, not so advanced that they need to use desktop GIS such as Arc desktop.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Designing layout in pop up balloons

This is the last idea from the Google Teacher's institute I'm going to blog about and it comes from Ben.

When you click a point in Google Earth you'll often get a pop-up appear.  Formatting in balloons is often important, e.g. in this nice example of 'old photo compared to new photo' you need to have the photos the right size, captions and a link to the source is important.   Problem is you can't do this sort of formatting easily within Google Earth unless you're an expert in HTML.

The point shown in the screen shot was created using the technique I'm about to explain including uploading the photos to blogger.

1] Sign up to  It's OK if you have no intention of using a blog, you don't have to publish anything.

2] Create a new post.  By default a button top left will be 'Compose' rather than 'HTML' .  That's good.  Use the tools provided to upload photos and arrange your text how you want it.

3] Now click the 'HTML' button mentioned already.  You'll see a load of weird text, this is the HTML that actually made the page you were working on.  Copy it all.

4] Go over to Google Earth, create a placemark (yellow pin button top left).  A 'new placemark' dialog box will appear.

5] Paste your HTML into the description box and click OK.

6] Now clicking your placemark (Places column on the left or in the main screen) will pop up your nicely formatted balloon.

7] when you're happy, go back and turn off your blogger post, no need to publish your post for your pop-ups to work (although you might want to save it/them and reuse the structure another time)

Extra stuff:
Pop-ups for areas and Lines: While a placemark works in my example (two photos work well as a point), you may want a balloon associated with an area, e.g. a large building or a line, e.g. a railway.  You can create a pop-up for these too, just create as you did with the placemark and put your HTML in the description box as before.  Clicking the line or area will produce a pop-up in exactly the same way.

Another Advantage: The technique has the advantage that you can use blogger to host your photos, you can put photos for pop ups in the KMZ file Google Earth creates but its buggy in the current version (see earlier post) so this technique not only makes it easy to format a photo pop-up, it solves that problem too.

Disadvantage: you need to be online to write a blogger post and for someone to view any photos in the pop-ups you create, they'll also have to be online.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Explaining Map Projections with GMEL (Google Maps Engine Lite)

This is the second post in which I write up ideas I've lifted from colleagues at the Google Teacher's Institute I went to in Pittsburg earlier this year.  This time I'll work up an idea I got from Josh Williams, author of  Use the polygon (shape) function in google maps engine lite to illustrate distortions produced by projections.

Background to Projections:  A problem with all flat maps is the 'orange peel problem' - try as you might there is no way to peel an orange and get the peel to lay flat without stretching it (if it was made of rubber) or ripping it into very small pieces.  All flat map representations of our globe are therefore distorted in some way.

0] You may like to start with some demo of actually peeling an orange and trying to get the peel flat.

1] Using Google Earth show students Greenland and South America to illustrate the size difference.  You might like to use the ruler tool to actually measure the width/height.  South America is much the larger.

2] Now flip to Google Maps Engine Lite and create a new map by clicking the button (you'll need to login to Google if you aren't already)

3] Name the map 'Illustrating Projections' or something similar

4] Point out to the students the difference in apparent size now, why would Greenland appear to be the same size as the much bigger South America?  The answer is distortion.

5] Using the 'draw a line tool' (a line separated by circles in a button under the search bar) click and release four times to create a big square covering Brazil.  It will have circles at the corners to show it is the item you are editing at the moment.

6] Tell the students you're now going to drag it northwards over Greenland and that the surface area it encloses is going to stay constant.  Get them to predict what is going to happen to the square in a sketch on paper.

7]  Now click the square so it has circles (being edited) and drag it northwards.  The distortion shows up in three ways:
a] it gets bigger
b] it gets wider at the top at the bottom as the distortion increases closer to the poles
c] edges become curves, again, due to the distortion increasing as you go north.

8] Process with students, e.g. I'd ask if anyone got all three.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Auto tours and Tours Love at Google Geo Teacher's Institute

So I'm not long back from being a trainer at Google Geo Teacher's Institute (GGTI).  Google kindly paid for me to fly out and put me up in a hotel so I could take part and I was part of a team advising Google on its GeoEDU program.  I can't tell you much about the advisory meeting but the GGTI is worth discussing:  It was training as much for me as for everyone else as I got to drop in on my colleagues sessions and pick up tips.  I thought I'd do a couple of blogs on what I picked up:

Automatic Tour for Student point review: An idea of Ben’s ideas that I really liked was getting students to all contribute a Google Earth point (saved as a KMZ file) and the tutor visits each one in turn to discuss.  An example would be 'find me a sand dune' then the tutor reviews if the points really mark sand dunes.  The tech bit is to put them in a folder and running an automatic tour.  To do it:

1] Get students to send you points in answer to a question by saving them and sending them to you.

2] Drag the points into a folder

3] Click the folder in the places column (it turns blue)

4] Click the play automatic tour button (not the normal tour button).  It's at the bottom left of the places column; a folder icon with a black triangle alongside it.

You will fly from point to point with a fixed time interval.  I wouldn't use this for a normal tour (a flight over a long distance should take longer than one between two closer points) but showing each student's point to the class and commenting on them will engage the students.

Love for Google Earth Tours:  What came out of both the GeoEDU advisory meeting (15 or so Google Geo education specialists advising Google on the future of their tools before GGTI) and the GGTI was that educators LOVE Google Earth Tours.  As someone who’s advocated them for education for a long time I'm really pleased to see people's interest.

There are now two ways to create Google Earth tours, with the Google Earth client and with Google Earth Tour builder. I thought I'd summarise the differences for you:

Characteristic     Google Earth Tours      Tour Builder
Ease of use           Pretty good                      Best
Editable               Yes but very complex     Yes and easy
Metaphor             Movie clip                       Powerpoint slides
Use offline?          Yes                                  No
Audio                    yes.                                 No
Layer control.      Sophisticated.                 Basic

In short, if you are used to google earth tours then don't bother switching but if you're just starting then tour builder is probably easier.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flipped Learning by Animated Poster

So there is a celebration going on in the School of Geography and Environment at Southampton today as we have been teaching geography for 100 years.  As part of that we prepared posters of recent research, mine was about flipped learning (good curation of relevant literature I recently found).  It took me 2 days to prepare the poster so I'd like the audience to be wider than just the visitors to the school today so I've produced a little experiment:

Poster based in Prezi (zoom and pannable)

Youtube Clip Talk zooming and panning around

Educational Value:  I did this by:
1] pasting a series of images of the poster into Prezi
2] Setting up a series of views around the poster
3] adding animated annotations to the views
4] Recording a screencast using screenflow (but the free screencast-o-matic is robust for simple use such as this)
5] uploading to Youtube

The nice thing would be to get students to do a poster then do a talk like this and attach a QR code to the poster linking to the talk so you could scan the QR code (generator page), access the youtube clip and get the author to talk you through the poster as you stood in front of it.  It has a lot in common with a Google Earth tour, instead of a tour around real space you're flying around 'information space'.

Suggested Improvements:  It works as a concept but I didn't design with a phone screen in mind enough IMHO, text needs to be bigger.  Also, it might be nice to extend out the poster to other related media rather than just talk about the poster itself.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Image in balloon pop-up work around

I had multiple students have issues with images in pop-ups not appearing in an assignment this summer.  If you've noticed the same issue on v7 then I have a work around:  upload the image to dropbox and give your image a web link.  Weirdly you can't use Google Drive for this (AFAIK).  As a work around it has the disadvantage that images will load up more slowly than if they were in the KMZ but at least it works.  Here's the specific steps that you can give students:

1] In the Layers column of the bottom left of the Google Earth screen, untick everything (except terrain if you can see it). Delete any features from the last tutorial in the Places column.

2] The image to the left is a photo at this URL Save it somewhere sensible. right click the photo > save as

3] Set up a dropbox Account if you haven’t got one, 

4] Access your Dropbox file store via the web enter the ‘public’ folder in the list. Anything put in here is available on the web. Now click the upload icon . Its at the top of the screen. Choose the Portree photo and upload it.

5] You have now uploaded the photo to the public folder on your Dropbox website and it has a URL. To get the URL: right click the photo > copy public link > Enter it into a new browser tab to see that it works.

6] Now we will access it in Google Earth. Click ‘temporary places’ folder to make it active. Create a placemark anywhere and in the dialog box :
- Name it ‘Anywhere photo’ > Click ‘Add image’ > paste the photo URL > click OK
- Back in Google Earth click the placemark you have created. You should see a pop up balloon appear with your photo in it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Are men better than women at navigating in virtual 3D spaces?

I have a PhD student Craig Allison who is looking at spatial understanding in maps and related 3D spaces.   He entered and won the faculty round of three minute thesis', a public speaking competition to see who could present their work best in three minutes with one powerpoint slide.  This is his talk at the final of the event competing with other PhD students from around the University.

Navigation in 3D Spaces: He covers the importance of designing 3D spaces well to assist users navigate them and the gender differences that he has found in his experiments.  It's especially relevant to anyone designing virtual field trips using tools such as streetview and/or Sketchup.

Sad that I couldn't make the talk to support him, great work Craig!

I've marked the location of the Psychology building he discusses if anyone wants a look.

Monday, June 9, 2014

What Features should a Teaching GIS have?

Sorry for the quiet on the blog, I'm only just surfacing after a lot of marking and teaching this semester.

In this post I'm going to explore the features needed to make a simple GIS for school level education. There are a lot of new services available that are excellent opportunities for educators (e.g. ArcGIS Online and the Google family of services [review]) so I think a consideration of what features a dream edu-GIS would have is a useful thought experiment.

How would we use a Teaching GIS?

My idea would be a simple introductory GIS that would be suitable to use outside of Geography, e.g. to support a biology project looking at the spread of trees in a forest.  The tool would be simple enough that students don't really need to understand they are using GIS at all, it would just work.  To teach students about GIScience itself, rather than just using it, you'd probably want another tool.  

Working with this constraint defines the general area of functionality we want to cover, we are not thinking about GIS analysis functions (e.g. calculate how many trees are within a particular polygon), we actually need GIS just to visualise the data.  

What Features do we need in a Teaching GIS? 
So now I've defined the scope of what I'd expect my edu-GIS to achieve, we can dive in and think up some functionality lists.  I've assumed there are various features common to all GIS already inherent in my all GISs such as layer control, data importation, navigation tools.  Beyond those needs I've come up with two lists:

Must Have:
  1. Usability:  This isn't a feature but is listed as IMHO it's the prime consideration.  Whatever other features are available they must be robust, easy to understand and easy to use for students. 
  2. Collection via Mobile devices:  The GIS must allow users of mobile devices with GPS's to go out and collect data via customisable forms and upload the data seamlessly to a shared map.  E.g. users go out in the forest with smart phones and log locations of different tree species which then uploads to a central map.
  3. Photographs:  There should be a variety of ways of easily bringing photos into the map.  In Google Earth these are screen overlay, balloon pop up and ground overlay.
  4. Symbology Styling:  The major groups of symbols (points, lines, polygons) should be available and it should be possible to change the style of a symbol depending on an entered variable.  E.g. a bigger icon for trees bigger than 10m.  There should be suggested colour palettes for shading but also the ability to customise colour completely e.g. illustrate tree species with shades of green but then highlight one particular tree species using a bright orange.  
  5. Attribute Table:  Related to point [4], it should be possible to access the spatial data as a table and be able to edit it, e.g. for one tree change its height from 20 to 30m within the GIS.
  6. Base Maps:  It's important to have an option to chage base maps for different purposes e.g. with lots of data you want to plot it on top of a subtle map that doesn't visually complicate the view.  In other situations you may want to use satellite data imagery as your base map.  
  7. Map Overlays:  Images should be possible to import as map overlays, e.g. bring in an image of an old map of London and overlay it on the existing topography.  
  8. Layout Tools:  It should be possible to add titles, a legend, a scale bar and annotations to a map in a simple way to allow it to be output as a well made static map.
  9. Story or Tour Tools:  There should be tools for constructing 'video' like stories with an audio narrative.
  10. Export:  The raw data and styling data (data about how the map is styled such as title size) should be exportable and be possible to import into a non-cloud service such as ArcGIS or QGIS.  This allows students to backup versions as they go along, if something goes badly wrong with the cloud file they are working on in the edu-GIS then they can use an older version elsewhere.

Also Could Have:
  1. Streetview:  A great bonus for education is the ability to be able to snap in and out of 'real world view'
  2. 3D:  Having true 3D rendering as per Google Earth can be very powerful e.g. in looking at conditions on mount Everest but for most applications, 3D is actually not necessary.
  3. Cross Section Tool:  A very useful addition in lots of applications but not core.
  4. Group working:  This is natural advantage of all cloud applications.  Being able to collect data to make a map is a core function number [2] but beyond that, IMHO group working on a map is not really core unless you are in a distance learning situation.
  5. Models:  Having 3D rendering of buildings can be very useful but, as with the point about 3D, it's not core.  For Geologists 3D models are much more important but I wonder if it would not just be better to build a separate program for making these sorts of models, do they have to be within a GIS?
  6. Historical Imagery:  A great resource for an edu-GIS but the patchiness of good data limits its use much as the fact that streetview is mostly consigned to public roads at the moment.  
  7. Time animation Features:  Very powerful but on the edge of what is possible within a school teaching situation, its quite abstract to get students to put these together.
  8. KML:  To explain this point I'll consider the Google Earth situation:  for power users, it is endlessly useful to be able to access the code that controls the data itself (KML) and manipulate it outside of Google Earth to go beyond the core functionaility.  For example, I have spreadsheets that I can use to produce KML outside of Google Earth and import it in, for example, creating custom Google Earth tour flight paths and speeds.  This extends the power of the GIS beyond the functions that are built in.

This is a quick, from the hip, set of thoughts.  It would be interesting to hear what other's agreed/disagreed with on my lists.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

San Francisco Earthquake Exercise Part II

Two years ago I posted some enhancements to an earthquake exercise by Noel Jenkins of Juicy Geography.  Since then, I've worked the practical up further

It was part of a recent first level course for Geographers here at Southampton University.

New Features:
  • Teaches students about earthquake amplification and liquefaction using YouTube videos
  • Uses Google Earth Tour Builder
  • Uses a 'clipping' technique for just showing a sub section of a YouTube video (howto)
  • Gets students to create 3 locations and then choose one of the three and justify it in the description box.
It's published under a CC edit but share alike license so please go ahead and use it. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Will educators miss Google Earth?

Over at Google Earth Blog Frank Taylor nails an issue I've noticed too:  support for Google Earth and development of the product seems to have dropped off Google's todo list.  Frank interprets this as being a bad sign for the future of Google Earth and I think he's right.  Its been clear for a long while that the client (Google Earth the program as compared to Google Earth in the browser) had a limited shelf life, it simply makes more sense to have things in the cloud for Google.  What is worrying is more that when the transition comes educators are going to lose out because important functionality may not be maintained in the brave new 'cloud maps' world.

Stuff educators would miss:  Firstly, and possibly most importantly, school teachers use and know Google Earth.  They are pretty averse to change in my experience, mostly they're not over excited by the newest functionality available, GE does what they need it to and learning to get that done through a cloud mapping service is going to annoy them.  If its considerably different from Google Earth I suspect people won't bother learning it or may even go elsewhere.

Save KML: Secondly, being able to whack 'earthquake Haiti KMZ' into Google and finding some useful resources to be able to mashup something for a lesson was endlessly useful.  And while we're talking about KML, its a really useful language for the semi computer literate - you could bash some ugly spreadsheet concatenate functions together and build a simple model to make maps.  Will KML make it through the 'cloudification'?

All under one roof:  Finally, part of its strength lies in the range of functionalities available.  Being able to bang an overlay map in, mix in some streetview visits, pull up a cross section and also explore all the great things in the Layers column in one software package is very powerful.  I've just set our first years a locate a task about locating a hospital, they were straight in there going beyond my instructions exploring hospitals in the area concerned by pulling data in from the layers column.  Will all that be maintained?

And:  I'll have to get myself a new blog name of course.... :)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Google Presenter/Google Earth Tour Builder mash up

About three years ago I wrote a post about the value of mashing up Google Earth with Google Presentations.  With the appearance of Google Earth Tour Builder I thought I'd look at the idea again.

Idea:  If you use a GET for a presentation its really useful to mashup presentation slides with maps and virtual flights in Google Earth.  What I tend to do is flick between the two while I present which isn't ideal and takes a bit of skill.  Much better if you could combine the two.

Old Solution:  My previous experiment involved putting Google Presentation slides into the client.  It was kind of useful but clunky to put together.

New Solution:  Links are possible in GE tour builder.  They've changed Google Presentations so that its less easy to link to an individual slide in a presentation but its still possible.

Example using Google Earth Tour Builder

1] Create a Google Earth tour with the builder tool

2] Create a presentation using Google Presenter.

3] Within your presentation, in edit mode, go to the slide you wish to use

4] Within your tour, choose the place slide you wish to link from.  In the 'TELL THE STORY' box, create a link to your presentation slide.

5] repeat 3 and 4 as many times as you wish

6] Click done editing

MUCH easier than my first experiment to put together!  You can now navigate to different places and click the links to get to the slide.  If you right click > "open in new tab" on the link the presentation will open and you can just close that tab when done and go back to the tour.  However, it takes some time for the slide to load up as you are actually loading all the slides at once.  If you just open the link, you'll lose your place in the tour when you come back as you will get bumped back to the start of the tour.

Also you don't have the ability to have the bullets appear one by one, you just get a static slide.

In conclusion, easy to put together but GETB needs be developed so it play's nicely with Google Presenter to make it a really powerful tool.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Google Geo Family

Summary of a long post:  For an average Geography school teacher, Google Earth Engine time lapse and Google Maps Engine Lite (video tutorials) are useful tools to look at but don't replace Google Earth as the educators favourite yet. 

So I was at the AGU conference in San Francisco just before Christmas.  I went to a Google Event where they showcased their new stuff and hung around with the Googlers on the Google stand a lot.  As a result, I've finally got my head around their new set of tools.  I thought I'd lay it out in this post, thinking primarly of school teachers as an audience.  Lets start by meeting the ancestors:

Geo Ancestors:  

Google Maps were road maps which developers soon started 'mashing up' i.e. putting their own data on top of using code (wikipedia on mashups).   Google My Maps was a service where users could build there own simple map, share with others or group create a map.  Google Maps got a major revamp this year, but as a tool for navigating and searching for places I'm guessing it isn't much interest to educators.  Google Earth used the same satellite data set as Google Maps but overlaid it on topography meaning we got 3D maps.  wooo!  We all got very excited about this when it came out in 2005....

....and had mostly got over ourselves by 2007.  Google Earth Client is a stand alone program but there is also the Google Earth plugin - this allows Google Earth to be accessed in a browser either as a separate web page or embedded within a web page.

Google Earth in Education:  Up to now, Google Earth client has been more commonly used by school educators in the UK than any other mapping or GIS tool (survey).  There are a few reasons for this (opinion only now):
  1. Free
  2. Simple and Usable to use
  3. Fantastic imagery available
  4. Streetview
  5. Allowed students and teachers to create maps to show to each other.
with 1 and 2 being the killer reasons.  On a wobbly version 7, the Google Earth client seems destined to disappear at some point in the future as it isn't a cloud based tool.  Whether all the advantages I've listed above for Google Earth will be maintained in the Google Earth plugin remains to be seen.  

Current Family:  

As an overview, the general thrust of the new family of tools seems to move into new areas where Google feels it can be a player with an emphasis on cloud computing.  No surprises there as that is a general move in software everywhere.  For the moment, Google Earth client and Google Earth plugin are still available.

Google Earth Engine Group:  This consist of Google Earth Engine, Google Earth Engine Lite and Google Earth Engine Pro.  NASA released Landsat data as free to download and use instead of charging for it.  Google love organizing the world's data of course so they've processed it and given everyone access.  Google Earth Engine also comes with a set of remote sensing analysis tools (remote sensing = processing satellite raster images rather than GIS which is more about vector data).  The processing tools are too specialist for to school teachers, but the ability to access time lapse images from the whole world 1984 - 2012 has some lovely uses (watch glaciers retreat, river meanders develop and the Aral sea dry up).

Google Maps Engine, Lite and Pro compared as a table.

Google Maps Engine:  Whereas GMELite and GMEPro could be used really usefully in a schools setting, this tool is quite a high powered GIS tool.  It allows people who know about GIS to bring large amounts of mapping data together and publish it using Google's infrastructure.  If you know what you're doing, this could be a useful way of bringing your data together and publishing it.  Related Tutorial.

Google Maps Engine Lite:  This is a replacement for Google My maps.  However, not only can you still create your own map, you also use attribute tables.  This is a simple but powerful part of GIS - for all cafes in a town, produce a spreadsheet with cafe vs number of seats and number of floors.  All cafes are represented on a map and you can change their icons automatically.  So all cafes with 2 floors could be red, then you decide you want to change it and with a few clicks, all cafes with 1 floor become pink.  You can even upload a spreadsheet table from elsewhere to the map as a CSV file (CSV is an export function of spreadsheets).

GMEL is really nice combination of good usability whist allowing some powerful map control.  Where it comes apart for me is the symbology, there simply aren't enough icons or blends of colors available and the default Google map icons aren't 2D (more detail on my problems with Google Map symbols).  The palette controls in Fusion tables (see below) are much better IMHO as you can customize the colors more.

Google Maps Engine Pro:  Pretty much Lite but allows you to store and visualize more data.

UPDATE 14th Jan 14:  Ron Schott pointed out I'd left out Google Fusion Tables and I take his point. Fusion Tables can be used to make maps, I've successfully used it to collect data from groups of students previously, essentially making a crowd sourced map (write up - bit out of date on specific instructions now but generalities still apply).  However, Googlers have told me that the use of Fusion Tables for maps was always a bit of a clutchy solution, it did some neat things but they got fed up with fixing it as it wasn't really structured to do maps well.  Google Maps Engine is the tool they'll be developing to do all the things that Fusion Tables used to do so it's fairly certain that fusion tables is not going to develop further as a simple GIS tool.

I also missed out Google Earth Tour Builder which I've reviewed and for which I've also produced a tutorial.  This is designed for producing a tour of places with features such as adding images and youtube clips.  Lots of educational potential getting students to produce tours but early in its development cycle and still in beta.  Note that it isn't actually hosted on Google's domain (its on 'withgoogle' instead), its not clear what that implies.

Closing Thoughts:  

There's a lot to love with

  • Google Maps Engine Lite, 
  • Google Earth Tour Builder and 
  • Google Earth Engine (timelapse) 
for educational purposes.  However, good old Google Earth still allows all the basic map stuff we've been using for years so I expect educators will still go on using it.

A few thoughts for the future:

  • Google have a serious naming issue, what a mess of confusing terms!  Six different names for the new family that I reckon could be boiled down to two.  It would make better sense if they had 'Google Maps Engine' which wrapped up all the features of GME, Lite, Pro, and Tour Builder together.  Google Earth Engine still could be separate but I'd rename it to be something like 'Satellite Engine', its not really got a whole lot in common with Google Earth, it isn't even a virtual globe.
  • There is value in maintaining the layout of Google Earth in the future, this is what educators are mostly using so they'll be annoyed if they have to relearn a new Geo interface.  I predict cross teachers if Google decide to pull Google Earth and the services available are as they are today.
  • The great thing about Google Earth is its simplicity.  To attract users (not just educators) to a 'simpler than Arc' geo service you should have the simple stuff readily available in the interface (GMEL) and the complex stuff (like Google Maps Engine) in there but hidden away on a menu bar you have to deliberately pull up.

UPDATE 15th Jan 14:  I added bits about tour builder and heavily edited for grammar and structure.  I first published this post while I had a cold and I don't think I was thinking straight!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Google Earth Tour Builder HowTo

Following my recent review of Google Earth Tour Builder I showcased it at the AGU conference before Christmas.  Google have published some text instructions but I thought a video tutorial would be worthwhile.

Richard Byrne also has a video tutorial, he discusses using multiple photos/videos for each place (functionality which I'm a bit 'meh' about) but doesn't go into the detail about tilted or plan locations.