The possibilities for using Google Maps are endless. From showing where the nearest bus stop is to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, the ever-popular mapping service has yet to see widespread adoption by the government, even though it should.
Google Maps makes data more digestible for average citizens. While expensive and precise geographic information systems (GIS) are the lifeblood of many agencies, Google Maps should be considered as a valuable Web 2.0 tool to better serve the masses.
Google Maps has been used for governmental purposes, like the effort to direct voters to polling places last fall. But mashups are created by third parties (or Google) and are subsequently not sponsored by the government.
So how could agencies use Google Maps in an official capacity?
- The U.S. Geological Survey could move their popular earthquake maps to Google Maps. The map would certainly see more use. Users could report their earthquakes directly to the map.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency (which has a great Twitter feed, by the way) could use the maps to detail exactly where their relief funding goes – down to the block.
- The weather maps from NOAA’s National Weather Service need an overhaul. While this could present a challenge to developers, smart planning would enable NWS to serve their next generation of online weather maps using Google Maps.
- The FAA can show you how your flight will be rerouted using Google Maps.
- And, of course, how can we forget Recovery.gov, which should soon be adding lots of data. This should be a no-brainer to use Google Maps for this Web site.
These seemingly ambitious ideas would actually work – and constituents would be grateful. However, here are some best practices to follow in order to be certain!
- Cut the clutter. While there is undoubtedly a lot of data to serve on these maps, be mindful that cluttered maps are hardly as effective as clean maps. Use filters, or break your data into multiple maps to reduce the clutter.
- If needed, ask for help from the big G. If something is not possible with the current API, reach out to the Google Maps team and ask them for help. Certainly, you will get special treatment as a government entity – and they will help you. The company wants to help the government – look at how YouTube worked with the Senate and House to make their respective “portals” as a recent example.
- Be smart about what data you use for the map. Make the data public friendly. Don’t create a map with obscure data that no one can use – use data that the public would find [remotely] interesting. That said, challenge yourself to make monotonous data interesting with Google Maps.
- Promote, promote, promote! Once developers work hard to create these maps, don’t bury the map on the Web site! Promote it through the site’s homepage, Twitter, blogs (including Gov Gab) and all other means possible. A properly designed map will sell itself virally – but at first, you’ll need to make the public aware.