In a meeting yesterday, a couple of my clients wanted to be able to see the locations of various employers in their community on a map, but weren't sure how to do this. I knew that this was something we could do using Google Maps, but not being a programmer, I also knew it was beyond my minimal capacities to be fooling around with Google's API. So I started to do a little research and quickly stumbled upon Wayfaring. It's a nice little tool that could prove helpful if you want to create your own map.
Creating a Map
You have to register to start a map, something I did in about 60 seconds. Within about 5 minutes, I had developed my first map showing the location of several employers in Delaware County outside of Philadelphia.
The first step in the process is adding "Waypoints," which are the locations you want to include on the map. You name your Waypoint (I just used company names) and then in the next screen, you enter the street address. Wayfaring will automatically figure out the GPS location of the address and integrate it with Google so that you can see your location as a pin on your map.
If you'd like you can add tags (I had entered a few hospitals, so I tagged them as such) and you can also include notes on each location. In my case, I could use notes to put the contact information of the HR manager at each of the companies we were including on the map (with their permission of course). Once you've added your notes and tags, you hit "Done" and you've added your Waypoint.
Adding additional waypoints was just as easy, although I did run into a few situations where the site couldn't find the address I'd entered. I need to do some more troubleshooting on that problem.
Sharing Your Map
If you want to share your map with someone else, you have a couple of options. You can use the e-mail tab to e-mail your map to your target audience. You also have the option of cutting and pasting the code to include in your blog or website. In my case, I'll probably be including the map in the job search blog I'm going to be creating for the client.
So why would anyone want to create their own map in the first place? I can actually see a lot of potential applications for the service. Later in the spring I hope to be working with a group of young people on an asset mapping project (we're waiting on grant money--sound familiar?). In that project, we want to gather information about the resources that are available in our community to serve the needs of youth who have dropped out of school. This tool could come in handy as a way to document what we collect. It would also allow us to easily share the information with other people in the community through the wiki and other tools we have planned.
Since we've been talking so much about networks lately, I can also see using this tool to map the location of individual network members or organizations or of various services that clients may access. Brainstorming with the network, you could probably come up with other value-add maps to create that would be helpful to network members.
Pros and Cons
One feature I'd like to have but didn't see is the ability to use tags to screen locations on my map. In my case, for example, I've included several hospitals. It would be nice if I could use the tag to include only hospitals on my map.
There also doesn't appear to be any "Help" feature--not even a FAQs section--so if you run into trouble, it seems that you're on your own to figure it out.
That said, though, Wayfaring was pretty easy to use and I got myself up and running quickly with minimal problems. And I can't complain about the price, since it's free. So if you're looking for a simple, fast way to put together your own Google Maps mashup, you might want to take Wayfaring for a spin.