Putting UMW On The Map, Part 2: Flash! And Other Fun Issues

Flash Gordon by QueenFor a while now, I have been trailed by Flash.

Unfortunately, I don’t mean Flash Gordon. While updating UMW in Google Maps, I’ve received mapping advice from a Google Mapper who goes by the pseudonym of “Flash.” He monitors the Google public forums. Among other issues, these interactions have resulted in me having that one Queen song perpetually stuck in my head.

“Flash! Whoa-oh… savior of the universe!”

There’s some irony in this lyrical coincidence; namely, that my Flash is far from a “savior.” E.g., his most recent piece of advice to me was, “I’m sorry, but I don’t believe there is a solution.” Argh—foiled again, Flash! My pitfalls, roadblocks and hurdles have been numerous.

Google Maps - No Solution“Flash! Whoa-oh… there is no solution!”

When working in Google Maps, I’ve learned that you need to have some flexibility. As I mentioned in my last post, Google Maps is a sort of cartographic Wikipedia. Anybody can make changes if they have a Google account, and those changes are peer reviewed before publishing (often by people like Flash).

Updating Google Maps is simple, once you get around the learning curve. However, the simplicity can become a crutch.

Here’s an example: one of our long-term goals is to host a set of specialized maps on the UMW website. I have visions for this.

  • I want to limit the search radius to the extent of the campus boundary.
  • I want to add error handling in the program so that bad searches can be accounted for.
  • I want to make sure that when people type in “DuPont Hall,” it sends them to Fredericksburg, not Williamsburg.

Due to the simplicity, I haven’t yet found a way to do all of this within Google Maps’ online interface, let alone host that data cleanly on our own UMW site. We’ve toyed with a few apps to no avail. It may eventually require further integration of a GIS database, which I initially used from the Geography Department to locate a lot of the undetectable buildings.

“Flash! Whoa-oh… that building is unnamed!”

Since learning better mapping convention, I have also had to double back and change many of my own past edits.

Here’s an example: as described to me by Flash, building polygons are not usually named. E.g., “Simpson Library” is not the building, but rather the content of a nameless brick-and-mortar structure. It makes sense—all buildings are, if you think about it, quite arbitrary.

Google Map - building unnamedAs you can see in the picture, I had to change the polygon from “Simpson Library” to an unnamed building. Then, I added a Point of Interest for Simpson Library, which is the proper convention.

I had to make this change for several places that I had initially done wrong by Google Maps standards.

I’m waiting for the new edits to go through, so keep checking back in for proper names!

“Flash! Whoa-oh… the future of the Google Map!”

We are discovering new applications for the project each day. We’re learning that we can integrate lat/long for each building with venues on a calendar of events. We’re adjusting some map data to make handicap accessible maps. We’re deciding how we want to best consolidate many maps into few, while maximizing user experience on both mobile and desktop platforms.

Most importantly, I think we’ve learned to tread carefully ahead; not to sprint headstrong into web maps, but step slowly, learning the nuances of the system while trying not to trip.

View the Google Maps presentation Ian gave to the Web Advisory Council on 3/26/15.

About Ian Spangler

Ian is a dual Creative Writing and Geography major graduating May 2016. He plans to graduate with a GIS certificate.