Free tool of the week: Fun, informative, powerful Google maps

midCaptureWe’ve all heard a lot about the capabilities of Google Maps, but that may not translate into our regular use of this great tool. I fell into that category myself before I sat down for a half-hour and just played. I decided to create a map of  East Lake Street in Minneapolis, which has benefited from recent community development projects. View the map at Midtown Renaissance: East Lake Street Comes Alive in a larger format.

To save time, I limited myself to five projects—but I could have gone on to produce a denser, more layered story of community development in this area.

Once you get on the larger map, click on:

  • the red line (Lake Street) to see a linked PDF
  • the green line (a bike path) to see an embedded youtube video
  • the yellow rectangle to see embedded photos and text, and
  • the blue square to see embedded photos, text, hyperlinks, and video.

The orange rectangle is another CDC project, where I wanted to show you that you can put a small photo directly on the map. Note also the P parking graphic; there are lots of these little graphics, like the biker on the green line, to choose from.

In short, all you have to do to create a map is go to Google Maps, quickly create an account profile, click on My Maps, and then Create New Map. Add a map title and description. You can choose the simpler street view format or the 3-D satellite view (in above photo) format to work in from the icons in the upper right hand corner. Zone in on the area you’re interested in and start using the placemarker and draw shapes tools in the upper left hand corner.

Using the placemarker tool, you can either choose one of Google’s icons or insert a url to create your own (that’s how I got the photo directly onto the map). If you use one of google’s placemarker icons, that creates a little popup window where you can title the place, add text, photos, and even embed videos. To embed photos in the popup window, click the little colored photo icon on the menu at the top of the window. To embed a video, click on “edit html” in the popup window and place the embed code from your video in the text box. Then click OK and Done (in the left hand column). That takes you out of the edit mode, so you can view your work like someone else will view it. If you’d rather learn this all from a video, here’s a good one.

You can also use the draw shapes tool (looks like a zigzag line) to create colored shapes and lines that overlay your map. I did this for the green bike route, the red street, the orange development area, and the yellow and blue buildings. A popup window automatically is created for these shapes, so you don’t have to use a placemarker.

There are a ton of uses for these maps in the nonprofit world—not just to locate your building for visitors. Think about creating neighborhood histories, identifying where specific resources or programs are located, tracking project progress on the ground, developing neighborhood asset maps, conveying complex demographic and community information, etc. (Environmental groups and others may want to also explore Google Earth Outreach for nonprofits. Here are some case studies for that tool.)

You can share these maps through emails, hyperlinks, and embedding. If you have any remaining doubts about the power of these free tools or need further inspiration, look at the Crisis in Darfur maps created by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

How has your nonprofit used Google maps creatively? Do you have any tips you’d like to share? Please do!



2 Responses to “Free tool of the week: Fun, informative, powerful Google maps”

  1. Lain Shakespeare Says:

    I’m the director of a house museum in Atlanta, but last fall I found myself driving my sister out to her new job in Salt Lake City. We decided to visit as many other house museums as possible along the way.

    I blogged about each site we visited and organized it all through Google Maps: (It works well if you use the navigation in the left hand side.)

    The map and the blog posts weren’t directly related to my own house museum, but it was directly related to my professional development. By framing it within the context of our museum, the map humanized our museum staff, gave us some credibility, and raised a little awareness for our industry.

    As your post so helpfully points out, there is now a lot more to be done with Google Maps. Great post!

  2. Top 10 posts of the year: Happy 2010! « IMPACTMAX Says:

    […] Free tool of the week: fun, informative Google maps […]

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