Archives for posts with tag: Google Maps

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth have greeted this week’s Associated Press style change on when to abbreviate and when to spell out state names. Read on for a mnemonic inspired by the Beastie Boys.

The AP memo reads: “Effective May 1, the AP will spell out state names in the body of stories. Datelines will continue to use abbreviations.”

Here’s my mnemonic: Spell out “Illinois” in the body of a story. But in datelines, captions and party affiliations, you’re still licensed to “Ill.”

Now if only there weren’t two kinds of state abbreviations to choose from. As long as we’re simplifying style rules, why not choose one kind of state abbreviation? We have “Ill.” unless you have a mailing address, in which case “IL” is required.

I’m not writing this to complain; I think AP’s rationale of seeking efficiency is laudable. AP style is always evolving. Maybe the next step will move further toward simplicity and uniformity of rules.

If we move to using just one set of state abbreviations (and I’m sure a lot of people would hate this because it just doesn’t look right), I’d opt for the postal abbreviation.

Why?

I confess my thinking is influenced by understanding how the Google Fusion Tables application works. It understands either spelled-out state names (Kansas, for instance) or two-letter, capitalized postal abbreviations (KS). “Kan.” does not exist to Google Fusion Tables.

If you try to import a spreadsheet with geocoded data and merge it with a KML file to create a heat map, you’ll get the geocoding equivalent of the Millennium Falcon’s hyperdrive not working again: You expect to lurch into the hyperspace of data visualization, but the result is a disappointing lack of heat map. Going postal might be ugly to look at, but what works, works.

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!

Made with Google Map Engine Pro

Made with Google Maps Engine Pro

The Kansas City Star recently ran the results of online poll asking where to find the best barbecue in the metro area. Only problem is, it didn’t tell where to find them. So I threw together a map using Google Maps Engine Pro while I prepared a step-by-step visual guide on making interactive maps for my multimedia journalism students.

I was pleased to see so many options I knew nothing about, despite my always being open to trying new ‘cue joints each time I’ve returned to see family and friends in the place where I grew up.

Locator maps were a staple of the infographics diet when I was a print journalist. Bar charts and fever graphs were also pretty typical. Illustration was seen as pretty exotic.

But locator maps were and continue to be important for mid-sized and large metro papers because city geography can be complicated, and we can’t always expect our readers to know much about neighborhoods far from their own.

At the same time, you can pack only so much into the space of a print graphic. And sadly, infographics were sometimes seen as “just one more thing to fit on the page.”

That shortsighted view was a symptom of a text-centric orientation of a “reporters’ newsroom.” Yet designers in more visually oriented newsrooms, like the ones where I learned the craft at the St. Cloud Times, Lawrence Journal-World, The Desert Sun in Palm Springs, and the Santa Fe New Mexican, know photos and infographics are the reader’s gateway into the page.

We also know EyeTrack studies have shown information from infographics is more likely to be read, retained, and potentially acted upon. But you could only fit so much into the space of a print infographic since real estate on the printed page was at such a premium.

That’s why I love the new tactics of online data visualization, in which the first layer provides general information and orients the reader to the subject, giving them points to click to find deeper information. That’s the logic of the graphic generated with Google Maps Engine, which is easy for the reader to use and relatively simple for journalists to use to create content.

Unfortunately, WordPress.com does not make it easy to embed Google Maps Engine maps. Please, add your comment asking WordPress to add this functionality to this forum.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this sample of what Google Maps Engine can do: Kansas City barbecue: Star readers poll results.

Oh, and if you want to see something that might get your blood up AND show you how handy Google Fusion Tables can be for blending numerical and geographic data, here’s a map showing how each state compares in terms of combined state and local sales taxes. Alabama, which has a reputation as anti-tax, actually has one of the highest combined state and local sales tax rates in the United States. That’s as I suspected, based on every time I’ve made a Costco run and been bitten by Montgomery’s sales tax, which combined with state tax is 10 percent.

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