Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Open letter to the media: Use Google Maps!

Dear Media Types,

Google Maps mashups have brought us into the center of some recent current events: The London bombings were visually plotted for us, yachts competing in the Transpac Pacific Yacht Race were overlaid on a map of the Pacific Ocean and injury incidents from the "Running of the Bulls" were shown along the run route in Spain. These events, and the real-time and detailed information that was being pushed from them were brought to us using Google Maps mashups and integrations.

Take the London bombing Gmaps integration as an example, the creator gave visitors to this website the chance to view the blast locations on a Google Map, aggregated RSS news and pumped in a Flickr photostream of citizen photographers that were documenting the event on the streets as it was happening. Add to that an event timeline from the bombing's wiki. This on-the-fly web news development work represents a swift change in the way people on the web might consume news in the future... The question is, will these citizen news producers and aggregators be the web destination for news hungry netizens instead of the news monsters like CNN or the BBC? - and will ad revenues for these large websites suffer as a result?

The Washington Post certainly thinks that it will be well positioned to venture into this new era of creative web news presentation. Seeing the value in Google Maps mashups, they went out and not only hired 23 year old ChicagoCrime.org Gmaps masher Adrian Holvaty, they even created a new position for him! - "Editor, Editorial Innovations". This creative insight already puts the Washington Post way out ahead of the rest.

Is Google Maps the perfect interface for displaying location based news? I think so. It allows a multi-national, national, regional or city newspaper the opportunity to plot all current news headlines on a Google Map interface. Annotated timelines of a car chase for example could show the web visitor all the twists and turns that the high speed drama took, positioned with assorted pushpin markers. The sports pages can display direction pointers at each of the venues that saw action the night previous with sports scores and lead photos displaying the sports writers commentary.

The ideas and opportunities to put news navigation into a Google Maps interface is endless and the time is now for early adopters in the news and media world to get in on this. The adoption of Google Maps within your current web news setup will bring an entirely fresh and unique way for your site visitors to navigate news content. This will increase visits and stickiness to your online content and will give you a competitive advantage over competing media organizations if you strike while the iron is hot.

Why do this right now? There are two early signs that I see that show some serious movement on this front. First, the move by the Washington Post to hire a Google Maps masher. This is a pretty strong message. As a side note, just today I came across an integration of Google Maps in a news story posted by now WashingtonPost.com employee Adrian Holvaty on Google Groups. Let's also not leave out the possibility that the New York Times could surprise us with something similar to the Washington Post's direction based on this.

The next indication that Google Maps and Earth applications might become the future interface for news presentation comes from Journalism.co.uk. They posted the following story recently about integrating news with Google Earth:

Developed by Birmingham-based technology firm Daden, NewsGlobe can combine Google's geographic search engine Google Earth with the user's favourite RSS news feeds to present stories on a local, regional or international map. (read the entire article..)

These two examples give us an early indication of things to come in the online news world. Will it be the independent citizen journalism world who embraces Google Maps first, or will it be innovative existing media organizations that embrace it most? Regardless, I'm looking forward to using whatever gets mashed-up. :)

Mike Pegg - A Google Maps Watcher.
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