How to Make and Annotate Maps with Google My Maps
|Published:||May 21, 2007|
Google Maps has been around for more than two years, but I'm always amazed by the number of people who still use Mapquest. While Google Maps faces fierce competition from Yahoo and Microsoft these days, it has one new feature that is absolutely killer: My Maps.
My Maps is accessible by a tab on the main Google Maps page, and it lets you take Google's already excellent zoomable, scrollable maps and add your own markers, paths, shapes, and annotations. Before Google came along with My Maps, there were (and still are) several third-party services that allowed annotations like this, but I find Google's implementation to be by far the most slick.
And it's definitely easy to use. Everything is point-and-click. I'll get you started with a few examples. To place a new marker�or placemark, as Google calls them�on the map, click on the placemark button (it looks like an upside-down teardrop), then click on the spot on the map where you want to stick it. When you're in this mode (or any other mode) you can still zoom in and out and pan around. Once you've stuck the placemark a bubble will pop up. Here you can enter a name and description for that marker. The information you enter will pop up when someone clicks on that placemark. You can type anything you want and be done in a snap, but if you want to do more there are some more options you'll find handy. By default My Maps puts you in "Plain Text" mode, but if you click on the "Rich Text" link in the editing bubble (don't worry, what you've already typed won't be lost), you'll get some text formatting controls just like you have in a word processor. If you've ever used Microsoft Word this is pretty self-explanatory. You can make lists, insert links (don't forget the "http://"), and even add images to the description (to use your own images I recommend using a free image hosting service like ImageShack or Photobucket).
You can also change the color and style of the marker itself by clicking on the picture of it in the upper-right corner of the editing bubble. There's a variety of different markers available for designating eateries, camp sites, and more. Once you're done editing you can save the placemark by clicking on OK in the editing bubble, and you can go back and change it (or delete it) at any time by clicking on it and then clicking on the "Edit" link. Finally, if you want to change the placemark's location, all you have to do is click and drag.
Next up is the line tool. As you've probably guessed, the line tool is for drawing lines or paths on the map. You can use it for plotting your morning jog, your kid's paper route, or directions to your secluded lair. It's simple to use: Click on the line tool (it looks like a jagged blue line), then click on the map where you want the line to start, then again to extend it to the next turn, and so on. At this stage don't worry about making the line super-accurate�later on you can refine it almost infinitely. When you get to the end of the route you're plotting, click on the last point you plotted to end the line.
Now the edit bubble will pop up just like it did when you made placemarks. Giving it a name and description works the same, so I won't go over it again. If you click on the line icon in the upper-right corner of the edit box, however, you get a few new options which let you change the line's color, thickness, and opacity. There are lots of colors to choose from, so even on a map cluttered with lots of lines you won't get them confused.
Like I said, after you've created a line it's easy to refine it. When you hover over the line you created (without clicking), white boxes will appear at its vertices. Then you can click and drag each vertex around, or click on the slightly transparent boxes between the vertices to add new vertices, which will allow you to add more graceful curves to your line.
Finally, there's the shape tool, to the right of the line tool. It hardly deserves explanation since it works exactly like the line tool. The only difference is that instead of drawing a line, it (spoiler warning!) draws a shape, and you can choose colors for both the outline and the fill color. It's useful for marking landmarks, showing where property lines end, and so on.
And that's the basics! You'll see that each placemark, line, and shape you add to the map will be listed to the left, and you can bring each one up by clicking on it. Also don't miss that Save button that will keep you from losing your precious work. Once you're satisfied with the map you've created, you have a few options: You can use the "Link to this page" or "Email" links in the upper right to share the map with your friends, or you can use the KML link to import your map into Google Earth or other KML-supporting programs.
One thing Google My Maps unfortunately doesn't allow you to do is embed your map in your own web site. Which brings us back to those third-party services. There are a couple that do what we're after, but the easiest to use is the non-Google-affiliated My Maps Plus. Here's how you do it: First, you need the address of your My Maps map's KML file. To get it, right-click on the KML link (it has a blue square icon next to it) on the My Maps page and choose "Copy Link Location" or "Copy Shortcut." Then go to My Maps Plus, click on "Add My Map," and on the subsequent page paste the KML address in the indicated box. Fill out the rest of the information if you want (it's optional), then click on the Create button at the bottom of the form. If it was successful, you'll see your map on the page. Below that there will be a box with some HTML code that you can paste into your web site's source to embed your map on your web site.
Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.
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