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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pamela Fox Talks About Google Maps

Google is releasing a series of developer-oriented podcasts on their Google Code blog. What follows is a partial transcript of the 2nd podcast [MP3] with Pamela Fox from May 29th.


Dion Almaer, Carl Quinn, Dick Wall: We’re really pleased to have Pamela Fox of the Google Maps team here with us to chat about maps. Pamela, could you introduce yourself to the community?

Pamela Fox: Hi, my name is Pamela, and I’ve been working as a support engineer for the past 4 months or so. I’ve just started full-time now. And this basically means I’ve been doing blog posts, helping out in the forum, and just being a middle-man – or woman – between the community and the engineers.

Is this your first job?

Yes, this is, yes... I just graduated a week ago.

Cool, congratulations!


All right, so Google Maps... maybe you can give us a little bit of the history on Google Maps and the API that it uses.

Well, I guess started and I think what happened is that somebody reverse-engineered Google Maps. And I think Google just liked it so much that they decided, let’s make it an API. And that’s the way a lot of things happen these days; people out there realizing, “hey, this could be useful for me too,” and then showing how it could be done. And you know, then us making that official.

Yeah, I think Google Maps is probably on of the – if not the – most mashed-up component on the internet.

Yeah, according to the stats on ProgrammableWeb, it is 50% of the mashups.

Right. Perhaps we should actually define a mashup, in case anybody’s not really familiar with that term. So, “mashup” is taking services or components or, you know, neat things on the internet from different sites, and kinda mashing them into one usable (or useful) application. ... Like Housing Maps, which was the original one. And this is really cool, that the Google Maps team went and hired the guy that did Housing Maps ...

... people are desperate to see things on a map, and they’ll do whatever they can to get it on there.

So the actual maps, can you put in your own layers, so you can you map like a World of Warcraft or something like that, can you map that?

I think you’ve seen! And I’ve seen also there’s a Lord of the Rings map, for people who geek on the other side... and, I mean you can do anything. I want to do my own map, which is just me doodling on top of the map and showing what I think the world really looks like, and it’s just going to involve a lot of scribbles and unknown areas... but you can do whatever you want.

So how do you actually put in a different layer other than ours?

If you wanna do it the hardcore way, they’re using custom tile layers. And that’s basically like, you’re [getting] the Google maps tiles, but you’re replacing those with your own. And so that just means... there you got level of detail, you’re defining the tiles at each zoom level, and for that, you know, latitude/ longitude bounding box.

And now there’s actually a much easier way to do it, if you don’t care about level of detail, and that’s with ground overlays. If you just wanna sort of stick it on top and say, “check out my layer, isn’t this cool.”

I know you can get pretty flexible ’cause I remember the Google Moon... if you zoomed out far enough it was made of cheese! They were right all along!

We’ve actually had a lot of people ask us when the Google Moon API would come out, and the Google Mars API. And general response is that we need to focus on the world first, and then we can go to outer space... and beyond.

Cool ... So how does this fit in with KML [Keyhole Markup Language] and Google Earth?

Well, now Maps supports KML. We have a function GGeoXml that would read it in and display it. Just like it would on So you can take the KML that you have on Earth, you can load it in Google Maps, you can load it in a Google Maps API application. And there’s just a few differences; obviously Google Earth is 3D, so you’re not gonna see something in 3D on Google Maps. But there’s still a whole lot you can show.

[They continue to talk about the then-upcoming Google Developer Day, and how the JavaScript-based Maps API is integrated into other frameworks.]

So, you go to the docs, and you start playing with the API, and you have to work with this “GMap2” thing... what’s the deal with the “2"?

We had Gmap... just Gmap! And then about I think it was maybe last summer, they introduced version 2 of the API for people to upgrade, because there are just some inconsistencies now. But the second version of the API, it’s a lot smaller, has better JavaScript compression, it has a lot more features ... and currently, version 1 probably doesn’t work for most people! So really it’s all about Gmap2 now.

So you see like version 2.85, 2.86... can you come up with a specific “I want this particular version"?

Yeah, you can refer to any specific version in your thing. If you really liked the way your map under 2.56...

... that was a good one!

[laughs] Yeah, that was really nice! ... So you could explicitly say that, but a lot of developers just watch our blog every two weeks, and see what cool features have come out, try them out in their maps, see if it’s working for them... and then update, you know, to the newest one.

So do you have to ask for, like, the experimental future specifically?

Yeah, that’s 2.X!

Nice ... living a life on the bleeding edge!

2 point extreme is what I call it.

[They go on about changes in the latest version, like the addition of scroll-wheel support.. which apparently works in different directions when you compare Google Maps with Google Earth. Also, developers request the Google Maps My Maps feature to draw polygons on maps for the API, too... and some, like the ShapeWiki creator, are recreating similar functionality on their own. Pamela also lists some of her favorite Google Maps mashups and mentions the most underused but useful Maps API feature – GLog for debugging alerts –, among other topics discussed.]


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