The new collaborative maps feature for Google Maps is an yet another example of how previously third-party-only API-based extensions for maps inevitably become folded into Google’s default offering. That’s progress.
But how does this new feature stack up to Tagzania, my current workhorse for collaborative mapping? Before today, we were planning to use Tagzania as the collaborative mapping solution for IPY.org’s next International Polar Day, focusing on ice sheets, coming up on December 13. Should we switch to Google’s tool?
It’s important to realize that Google’s collaborative tool is not in exactly the same space as Tagzania’s. Google Maps now excels at inviting people you know and trust to edit your maps. Tagzania works differently: Everyone can contribute their own placemarks and assign to them a common tag — perhaps a pre-agreed tag, but not a tag that is exclusive to anyone.
Once you do get editing privileges in Google Maps, those privileges go all the way — you can move other people’s placemarks, and alter the text in popup bubbles. That’s powerful, unless of course you set the collaboration preferences so that anyone can edit the map. I accidentally moved a placemark on the collaborative map of surf spots touted by Google Lat-Long blog… sorry! Other people, no doubt, will see this as an opportunity for mischief.
With Tagzania, spammers could conceivably rain on your parade by adding spam placemarks and giving it loads of irrelevant tags, but they wouldn’t be able to destroy your own hard work. In the case of IPY.org’s needs, where we want anyone to be able to note their participation in the International Polar Day, the indestructibility of content is very important.
Ideally, we’d have a tool where an owner is in charge of a map to which anyone can contribute their own placemarks, no-one can alter others’ placemarks, and where the owner can weed out the spoilsports. In Tagzanian parlance, that would be the equivalent of “owning” a specific tag name, and being able to disallow inappropriate placemarks from using it. Neither Tagzania nor Google Maps gives us that kind of tool at the moment, but Tagzania’s comes closest to what we need.
That doesn’t make Google’s offering worse in terms of collaboration — just differently focused.
One more thing: Both Google Maps and Tagzania offer KML network links to their collaborative maps, so that they are always up to date.
PS: Google has also just announced you can now upload KML files from your computer to Google Maps, in addition to visualizing those accessible via a URL. Unfortunately, I’m not succeeding in getting any KML files to upload at all at the moment. Is anyone else having this problem?