Google has created a tool to let non-technical users create Google Maps mash-ups, extending this capability beyond the realm of software developers.
The feature, called My Maps, is designed to let users who don't have formal programming knowledge to create, annotate and publish online maps on the Google Maps platform.
My Maps aims to provide to non-technical users some of the mash-up capabilities that have been available for several years to developers via application program interfaces (APIs), which require programming knowledge to use.
Developers have created more than 35,000 Google Maps mash-ups, marrying the Google mapping platform with external data sources to create all sorts of interactive maps where users can find information on apartments for rent, bike routes, hotels, gas station fuel prices, parking garage fares and so on.
My Maps has a graphical, drag-and-drop interface that lets users create a map, add placemarks to it, and draw lines and shapes. Users can also add notes, photos, audio clips and videos to placemarks.
If people label "public" the maps they create, Google will crawl and index them, and return them as results for Google Maps queries to which they are contextually relevant, said Jessica Lee, a Google Maps product manager. People can also keep maps private by tagging them "unlisted" so they are available for viewing only by people they choose to share them with.
By extending the ability to create Google Maps mash-ups to regular users, Google wants to significantly increase the amount of data created for its mapping service, Lee said. The more user-generated content that exists for Google Maps, the more useful this mapping search engine will be, she said.
Strengthening Google Maps also gives a boost to the company's local search service, since both are integrated in order to deliver search results that include maps along with business directory listing information, driving directions and other relevant information.
Kelsey Group expects advertisers to spend US$11.1 billion in 2011 to market their goods and services in local search engines, compared with $4.1 billion last year, an average annual growth of 22.3 percent. Responding to user and advertising interest, Google and competitors like Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL and Ask.com have made their local search engines and accompanying mapping sites a high priority.
At launch tonight, Google will provide some maps done by its employees, like one detailing two people's journey on legendary Route 66.
Maps created by users will be saved on Google servers. Each map will have a unique Web address on the Maps.Google.com domain, Lee said.
In addition to My Maps, Google is adding millions of KML files to its Maps search engine, another move to increase the volume of third-party data available for the mapping and local search service.
KML stands for Keyhole Markup Language, and it's the language used to create data files for both Google Maps and its sister desktop application, Google Earth. In February, Google made available these KML files via Earth's search engine, and it's now including them in Google Maps as well.
KML overlays have been created by casual users as well as by large organizations like Discovery Networks, the U.S. National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic.
My Maps will be available in the Google Maps homepage as of midnight (U.S. Eastern Time.)