The Google Maps API has been a runaway success, allowing developers around the world to create mashups marrying Google maps with data on a variety of topics, including craigslist real estate, taco trucks in seattle, flickr pictures, cellphone reception and crime in Chicago.
Unfortunately, this model has a few problems:
- It requires a developer’s skillset. A user without technical skills can’t create their own mashups.
- It isn’t easily discoverable. You can do a search for “google mashup”, but that’s hit or miss.
- You can’t overlay multiple data sets. If you’re looking for the burrito bandit and want to overlay taco trucks and crime, you’re out of luck.
- It scales at the rate the developer’s hardware can scale. Some of the more interesting applications I have seen have buckled under load.
- Users have little incentive to contribute data because the site developer may disappear. I spent a lot of time geocoding pictures in flickr for use with a site called Geobloggers.com, which in a previous incarnation allowed you to plot flickr pictures on Google Maps. Unfortunately, the site died when the developer was hired by Yahoo!
I’d like to see a point-and-click interface that allows users to create their own points of interest on a map. These POIs would automatically appear when the user generates a map. The obvious POIs are “Home” and “Work”. Some of the other things I’d use this for:
- Restaurants I’ve visited
- Road trips I’ve taken
- Pictures of places I’ve traveled
- Homes of friends and family
- My favorite places for tubing
Personal POIs would also be used for defining origins and destinations when looking for driving directions, e.g. route from “Home” to “Grandma’s house”.The POIs would be syndicatable, with access controls. I could choose to keep the homes of friends and family private, share my favorite places for tubing with friends and share restaurants I’ve visited with anyone who wants to see them.
You could use the collective knowledge of the Web to create maps of things like:
- Speed traps (imagine getting a route that highlighted potential speed traps)
- Subway stations
- Traffic and red light cameras
- Fastest, best roller coasters
- Mel Gibson arrests
- Giant balls of twine near the interstate
When on a map, I should be able to see a list of the most popular data feeds available for that map, with the ability to search others. I would also be able to subscribe to specific users or tags to automatically see their content.
I should also be able to have feeds from external sources appear on my map. For example, I maintain restaurant reviews on Yelp.com and an address book on Plaxo. The most up-to-date data from those sources should appear on my maps.
You can do some of these things with Platial.com and Google Earth’s KML files, but I have yet to see an integrated solution in a user-friendly package, with the scale of users necessary to have compelling data sets.