Thursday, April 05, 2007

Google Mashups for the Masses

Google is calling upon its millions of users to chart a new direction for its online maps.

As part of an initiative being launched today, the Internet search leader will provide free tools designed to make it easy for people to share their knowledge about their neighborhoods and other favorite places by creating customized maps that can assemble information from a variety of sources.

The map creators will be given the option to make the content public or keep it private. Thousands of hybrid maps, often called "mashups," are already available on the Web, documenting everything from local housing markets to active volcanoes.

But cobbling together an online map typically requires some computer coding skills. Google has tailored its tools for a mass audience, making map mashups as easy to produce as pointing and clicking a computer mouse. The Mountain View-based company is hoping the simplicity will generate millions of highly specialized maps that can be stored in its search index.

While testing the new tools, Google's own engineers created maps focused on U.S. Route 66, the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Major League Baseball stadiums and voting patterns in the 2004 presidential election.