Map Mashups: When a good idea takes off
November 22nd, 2005 by JTJ News serves up a good overview of what happens when a company pushes its powerful code kernels out to the world.

Mapping a revolution with 'mashups'

By Elinor Mills

Staff Writer, CNET

November 17, 2005 4:00 AM PT

Even before Google gave its blessing, Paul Rademacher was hacking
away at the code behind its mapping application so he could mix it with
outside real estate data and see exactly where homes listed for sale
were located in the San Francisco area.

Little did the computer graphics expert know that his, which combines a Google map with house listings from the popular Craigslist community,
would be the start of an Internet phenomenon. Although Rademacher
created his site about two months before Google publicly released its
application programming interface–the secret sauce that allows
developers to create their own recipes with its maps–the company
wasn't angry.

In fact, Google hired him shortly thereafter.

“Now we see that all along there has been a huge amount of interesting
information tied around location,” Rademacher said. “Before, they had
no way of expressing that and doing anything useful with it.”

With such “mashups”–hybrid software that combines content from more
than one source–digital maps are quickly becoming a centralized tool
for countless uses ranging from local shopping and traffic reports to
online dating and community organizing, all in real time and right down
to specific addresses.

Online mapping is evolving into a historic nexus of disparate
technologies and communities that is changing the fundamental use of
the Internet, as well as redefining the concept of maps in our culture.
Along the way, map mashups are providing perhaps the clearest idea yet
of commercial applications for the generation of so-called social
technologies they represent.

They are, in a very real sense, bridging the gap between the virtual and physical worlds.

“This information has been on the Web for years,” said Mike Pegg, a Canadian programmer who runs a site called Google Maps Mania. “The map is all of a sudden bringing this information to life for us. I think it has inspired a lot of people.”

So prolific has the mapping movement become that Pegg has dedicated his
site to documenting the staggering growth of mashups. He estimates that
at least 10 mashups are created every day, each providing data that pop
up in info balloons from the digital pushpins dotting various online

Not surprisingly, this unprecedented interest is forcing change at
old-world cartography institutions. Just last week, Rand McNally
announced a new online mapping service of its own called MapEngine,
which will allow businesses to integrate maps, directions and location
search functionality into their Web sites. But such established
companies will increasingly compete with free applications that have
sprung up organically on the Web.

A monster mashup

The term “mashup” was first used in pop music when artists and DJs
began playing two songs simultaneously. In technology, it refers to a
Web site or application that combines content from multiple sources but
appears seamless upon use. Although used for various software, mashups
became an unparalleled phenomenon in digital cartography because of the
relatively easy ability to overlay all types of data on an online map
with tools from such companies as Google and Amazon.

Already, hundreds of mashups overlay maps with everything from such practical information as gas station prices, hurricane movements, hot springs sites and crime statistics to the more entertaining if not frivolous, including photos of urinals, UFO sightings, New York movie locations, taco trucks in Seattle and Hot People by ZIP Code, a mashup of Google Maps and the Web site.

This wildfire popularity has touched off feverish competition among the major portals that provide mapping services,
especially since Yahoo, Microsoft's MSN and Google all released their
map programming software to the public. But another reason cited for
the boom in map mashups is one of hardware, specifically the processor
speed and storage capacity needed for satellite photos and other
resource-hogging images.

“They are taking off because the hardware has gotten to the
point where it is possible and the software has achieved a bit of
maturity, especially with Google Maps,” said Rich Gibson, co-author of
the book “Mapping Hacks.” “Until very recently you couldn't effectively
do mapping work on a personal computer.”

Hardware and software aside, however, it is the ability for anyone to
add information to a map

“You can plan a jogging route and it calculates when you should take
rests,” said Bret Taylor, product manager of Google Local, which
includes Google Maps. “It amazes us how popular this site is.”

 Google all over the map

Has Google created a de facto standard with its mapping technology?

Click here to watch video

The “about” section of Gmaps Pedometer explains: “As a runner training
for a marathon for the first time, I found myself wishing I had an easy
way to know the exact distance a certain course is, without having to
drag a GPS or pedometer around on my runs. Looking at Google Maps, and
knowing there was a vibrant community of geeks hacking it, I knew there
had to be a way. So here it is.”

Real estate and travel mashups, which inherently lend themselves to
geographically specific information, are proving particularly hot. Some
examples: Dartmaps, for real-time locations of commuter trains in Dublin,, for tracking airline flight status, and, which allows travelers to post journals and photos on maps, as well as get hotel reviews.

“The map is all of a sudden bringing this information to life for us. I think it has inspired a lot of people.”

–Mike Pegg, programmer, Google Maps Mania

“Travelers often have a world map on their wall with thumbtacks of
where they've been,” Chief Executive Sam Shank said. “I
wanted to carry that online. I thought it was an incredible metaphor
for travels.”

For those not worried about a housing bubble, lists how much people paid for their homes, while real estate mashups and combine data on homes for sale with detailed neighborhood information such as park and school locations.

Other mashups have a distinct community or social perspective, such as, which allows people to create and share maps,, which features a map showing the potholes in New York City and tracks how long it takes to fix them, and, which lets people search for events according to type, date or location.

Still more are combining photos and maps, such as, which allows people to do location-based searching for photos around the globe, and's A9 map service, which shows street-level photos for specific addresses.

“Taking a picture and putting it on a map ties it to the real world in
a way that the Internet hasn't been able to do yet,” said Jared
Upton-Cosulich, founder of “In general, the Internet
has not been good at giving this information. What's near me? What's in
my neighborhood? A map makes that information easy to digest.”

“Travelers often have a world map on their wall with thumbtacks of where they've been. I wanted to carry that online.”

–Sam Shank, CEO,

One Web site called KMaps,
has created software built on top of Google Maps that allows people to
get location-based information on various mobile devices, such as the
addresses of nearby restaurants and directions to get there. Developers
have already expanded the applications to include the ability to
quickly find a date in the neighborhood and other social networking

As with all successful technologies, of course, commercial interests
are never far behind, and mapping is no exception. While mashups
typically are labors of love created by passionate people who want to
share information with others, businesses see the potential for highly
targeted advertising and other lucrative applications.

“If you can build an interface and database that is useful, you can
serve contextual and geo-targeted advertising against it,” said Greg
Sterling, an analyst at The Kelsey Group.

Because they are linked to relevant information, search- or
keyword-based advertisements are more effective than traditional
“display” ads designed simply to promote a brand. Targeting ads not
only to a keyword search but to a person's specific location could be
even more effective.

It can be assumed, for example, that someone searching for
restaurants in a particular neighborhood may well be planning on dining
there. That kind of specific behavioral prediction is exactly the kind
of incentive that can lure local merchants, who have declined
advertisements to global readerships in the past because they were not
worth the relatively high price.

Local search is expected to grow from being a $418 million market this
year to $3.4 billion in 2009, according to a forecast from The Kelsey

Although Google has not served up ads on mashup sites, the company
reserves the right to include advertising in the map images provided to
mashup creators, and users must agree to display those ads without
modification, according to its terms of use.

Yahoo is selling sponsorships to certain merchants for placement on
prominent buttons that appear below a map that will show locations of
stores, wireless hot spots and other sites. Yahoo Maps also includes a
feature that shows traffic conditions and a SmartView feature that
allows people to pinpoint on the map various destinations such as
Chinese restaurants, hospitals and hiking trails.

To improve its mapping service, Yahoo Japan has been accepting
information from the public about information in their neighborhoods,
such as the opening of new stores–another illustration of the value of
social technologies and networks.

Yahoo Local
directly integrates user content and places it on a map. Typing in
“best margaritas” and a city and ZIP code, for instance, brings up
three sponsored results followed by reviews and ratings written by

“Yahoo, in particular, has seen maps as another doorway into local
information,” Sterling said. “I have historically used Yahoo Maps
because I can plot a point and find a hotel in proximity to that
location, within walking distance. That kind of information is hard to
get a sense from most text links or standard searching.”

“Taking a picture and putting it on a map ties it to the real world in a way that the Internet hasn't been able to do yet.”

–Jared Upton-Cosulich, founder,

Companies are looking at subscription and pay-per-transaction
strategies, but so far advertising has been the “most tried and tested”
business, said Jeremy Kreitler, senior product manager for Yahoo Maps
and Local.

“For example, Holiday Inn can be plotted on a map and provide links to
do bookings and get more information,” he said. “Those are good for
getting brick-and-mortar advertisers engaged.”

Justin Osmer, MSN Search product manager, agreed. “The advertising
model is the one that will take the lead. Pay-for-call is an
interesting model. With a pizzeria example, if you click on that ad
maybe MSN Virtual Earth gets 5 cents from that call. It's taking the
click-through model one step further.”

MSN Virtual Earth allows people to layer multiple searches on one map,
for instance, pinpointing locations of restaurants, movie theaters and
hotels. Microsoft is looking into business models that would allow
merchants to add photos of their stores, hours of operation and other
information, Osmer said.

In addition, real estate mashups provide opportunities for local agents
to advertise and list, said Matt Heinz, senior marketing director of “Real estate is a killer app for aerial mapping.”

Alternative ways of making money are being tried on a small scale. On his GeocoderUS
site, author Gibson lets people enter an address and find the longitude
and latitude for free, but he charges businesses $50 for 20,000

“There will most likely be a shakeout down the road as methods for
monetization evolve and those with a solution survive,” Kreitler said.

In all likelihood, it is far too soon to tell what mapping
services or mashups will prove the ultimate successes. Driven by the
power of collaborative grassroots thinking, technology is advancing too
rapidly on this front to predict with any certainty–commercially or

Online maps are quickly becoming far more dynamic than ever imagined
and will soon enter new phases of development as other technologies are
mashed into the mix. Pegg of Google Maps Mania cited the street
conditions as one fertile area, where truly real-time data would
drastically change their usefulness with such alerts as traffic
accidents and storm damage.

“For a really killer map interface, the only thing left is a live video
satellite,” he said. “That's the only thing that is missing–up-to-date

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