Google maps in 4D


Lately, I've been thinking up some "wouldn't it be cool if..." scenarios for Google maps. After some initial searches, I could only find a handful of examples that related to what I had wanted to do; namely, combine a Google map with some sort of time-line. The idea stems from the need to view a timeline of events in a geographic or spatial relationship rather than a flat text listing.

To illustrate this idea, imagine viewing a police blotter in map form rather than a text listing. If you are searching for crimes close to your neighborhood, or other point of interest, a map is a much more efficient means of displaying that information. Scanning a list and mentally calculating the location can be a bit awkward, so a geographic representation seems like a natural fit. Adding the dimension of time could allow you to discover all sorts of relationships and patterns that may not have been evident from the data alone. Viewing a mapped police blotter over a specified period of time could reveal impacts of new neighborhood watch programs, extended police patrols, or track and correlate certain crimes to geographic locations.
The mockup below shows how you might display this type of information on a map with a slider to control the timeframe (think weeks, days, or hours)

Another useful scenario would be to map upcoming events to locations... For example, sometimes I will pull up the Guidelive events page or upcoming.org to see if anything interesting is happening around DFW for the upcoming weekend, etc. The result is an html page chocked full of events and attractions. You can narrow this down a bit by using the guidelive neighborhood filter, but you can only choose one neighborhood at a time, and I am not really sure what those designations mean anyway... (What is the difference between north dallas and far north dallas?)
The example below samples how you might view upcoming events over the next week.

Although the examples above show a fairly simple implementation, with a little work, you could find all sorts of ways to combine different date pickers, slider controls, and animation techniques with public data and calendars to come up with some great mashups. With the newly announced support for Flash in the Google map API, the possibilities are endless.

Here are some other applications where it might be useful to see map data over time:
  • Public calendar mashups (see upcoming conferences / meetups, view a sports team or band schedule, etc.)
  • Disease outbreaks (see John Snow's discovery in the 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak)
  • Travel itineraries
  • Tracking packages, deliveries, etc.
  • Geo-Twitter, social mapping, etc.

The maps above use the Google maps API to read marker data from an external xml file. Many thanks to the good people at the Blackpool Community Church Javascript Team for providing such great tutorials. The top map also combines jquery's slider control (hat tip to Chuy for helping me out his javascript ninja skillz) Note: Firebug seems to slow down the map performance, so if you are seeing some weirdness while using FF, please disable firebug and reload the page.

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