Archives for posts with tag: Google Maps Engine

UPDATED WITH MORE MAP LINKS

The Multimedia Journalism students are finding out how useful and straightforward Google Maps Engine is as an online storytelling tool. Each created a map of five places on a subject relevant to the topics of their blogs.

The maps are an interactive version of an old standby of static print infographics: the locator map. Locators have a simple ingredients list: Headline, chatter, base map, place labels, and descriptions accompanying each place label. The difference with Google Maps Engine is that you get the gift of interactivity: Users can see pointer boxes with names and descriptions pop up as they hover the cursor over a list of place names.

The five-place Google Maps assignment is appropriate as an introductory exercise in interactive mapping for beginning multimedia journalists for these reasons:

  • It challenges students to conceive of a piece they find interesting and (hopefully) that their readers will also find intriguing.
  • It requires that they do the kind of research that will be expected of them in the newsrooms that will hire them after graduation.
  • It gives them an opportunity to put to use what they learned in the step-by-step, in-class Google Maps tutorial, the Kansas City barbecue map. Hey, I’m a Kansas City boy, but some things translate well from the Midwest to the South, and barbecue is one of them. So we can almost all relate to the subject.

Here’s what the students cooked up this week:

Google Maps Engine is not hard to use, once you understand what it does and how it works. The technical questions are not difficult; the challenge, as I discovered when I sat in on the international hackathon session at Auburn University’s computer science program last fall, is figuring out a journalistic use for it.

Coders provide the conduit, and it is powerful work that they do. Journalists provide the ideas for content to flow through the conduit. Technical thinkers and journalistic thinkers complement each other. Especially now, we need each other.

I’m proud of how much my Multimedia Journalism students have built their technical skillsets while flexing their storytelling muscles these last 16 weeks. May they evangelize new media thinking in the newsrooms they join in the near future. They’re smart, they love storytelling, and they’ve demonstrated a capacity for problem solving and tenacity. Editors , directors and station managers, you need these young people. Hire them!

It’s interactive data map time! This one’s a choropleth map charting each state’s combined state and local sales taxes for 2012. Data are from the Tax Foundation.*

The tutorial I developed for this data set for class today is based on the Mu Lin Multimedia Journalism Blog’s tutorial on Google Fusion Tables for beginners, in case you’re wondering where to start.

While I let Dr. Mu Lin’s post do the heavy lifting Tuesday, my contribution today was in guiding the class through some critical thinking about how to apply Fusion Tables, their understanding of how to interpret data, use color to create a clear visual order, and online usability.

How do you make sense of data by categorizing them? That question begets another: Am I trying to illustrate the range of a single set of data, such as population densities? Then using a range of greens or oranges or blues might be the way to go.

How do you select a color range that establishes a clear visual order? It’s a challenge to set aside our individual preferences and pick colors that help the data make sense. I love blues, greens and purples in art, but I have to set those preferences aside in favor of asking how to use colors to make outliers stand out or how to how to show gradual difference among related information.

How do you take advantage of interactive data mapping’s strengths vs. the limitations of static design for the print world? For instance, it might not be necessary to have the names of all states in a dynamic interactive map online because the name will appear in the popup box with data relevant to that state when the user clicks on it.
Of course, you also must ask how to make the map usable to everyone. People who have colorblindness have a right to read information online, too. I don’t know a lot about color blindness, beyond the fact that red-green is the most common form of it.

If you require guidance on such decisions, as I do, a site called Color Brewer 2: Advice for Cartography has an interactive color picker. You can select the number of categories, or “buckets,” you’re using, whether you need sequential, divergent or qualitative range of colors, and any special considerations such as publication for people with color blindness, for printing, or for photo copies.

Footnote
* I am aware of criticism of the Tax Foundation. Economist Paul Krugman has called it “not a reliable source” if you’ve done a little fact checking on its demand to lower American corporate taxes. Interpretation is one thing; which data are used is another, and the raw numbers look sound. What we’re doing here is exploring it from an angle that affects everyday Americans who make retail purchases for everyday needs: combined base state taxes when combined with the average local sales tax in each state.

Corporations get a lot of attention when it comes to taxation because their decisions affect a lot of people, and their money gives them media attention and access to power. Journalists need to watch out for the interest of those who lack these advantages. So that’s why we’re looking into sales taxes in each state.

One limitation of this data set is that it comes from 2012. Lots of cities in Alabama raised local sales taxes in 2013. That’s not reflected in this exercise. Anybody want to take on the task of creating an updated one?

The Multimedia Journalism class is moving into chloropleths using Google Fusion Tables this week, but I’d like to encourage everybody to keep thinking of ways you can use Google Maps Engine to deliver useful info to online audiences. So here are a few interactive maps from the last few weeks that deserve your attention if you’re trying to get a handle on what you can do with Google Maps Engine:

  • Themed runs: Spingo.com has a nifty one that will help you locate color runs and other themed 5K and 10K runs.
  • Tracking the situation in Ukraine: Business New Europe tweeted about this interactive map of the state of play in the crisis between Russia and Ukraine. It is apparently the work of James Miller and his crew at Dissected News.
  • Google Maps Gallery: CNET.com explains the purpose of Google Maps Gallery as a searchable gallery “full of interactive digital maps from a variety of businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations, such as National Geographic, World Bank Group, and the US Geological Survey.” 

If you’ve clicked on those links, it should be clear that your options for using Google Maps for features and hard news are practically limitless. Now get mapping!

Google Maps Engine Lite is a great tool for building uncluttered, functional, interactive online maps if you don’t have a lot of artistic talent or technical skills. Here are a few things you can do with it:

  • Locator maps: Students in Multimedia Journalism this week will follow a step-by-step visual guide in class on how to create a geospatial data map of the top vote-getters in a poll by the Kansas City Star. Here’s what they’re aiming to create to prepare to make their own maps to post on their blogs; it might look familiar since I blogged about the Kansas City barbecue map yesterday:

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

    Made with Google Map Engine Pro

  • Map routes: Robb Montgomery used Google Maps Engine to show how to get to an outdoor cinema in Berlin over a couple of different routes by searching for directions and drawing routes.
  • Layered geolocated data charts: You can import spreadsheets of data organized by location (e.g., state, county, other geographic boundary) in one column and data for each location in the second column. The result is a map with pins the reader can click on to see the data. The New Haven Register used this to map crimes in the city of New Haven, Conn.

That last option is not the easiest way for readers to visualize data if the info in question involves rankable rates or numbers by geographic region. If that’s what you have to work with, what you really want to make is a choropleth.

Don’t be afraid; that’s just a fancy name for a heat map, a way of presenting data that is color coded from most to least, best to worst, etc. Doing this can help readers visually recognize the rank order of each region.

To make a chloropleth, you need to use Google Fusion Tables, which I’ll blog about later this week. Google Fusion Tables can be used to create heat maps by merging a spreadsheet containing state-by-state (or county-by-county, or country-by-country, you get the idea) data with the geographic outlines of their corresponding geographic areas.

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