Visualizing Spatial Data using Google Drive and Fusion Tables

Some people think that Google does not provide a solution for Geographic Information Scientists. I’d beg to differ, beyond their purchase of Keyhole Inc. and the subsequent formation of Google Earth, Googlers have also created the Fusion Tables experiment. Fusion Tables allow you to take data available in a Google Drive spreadsheet and visualize various datum overlaid on a Google Map base map.

Creating Maps using Google Drive Spreadsheet and the Fusion Tables Experiment

Here’s an example Fusion Table map I created, using South American butterfly data provided by the Fusion Table experiment.  Clicking the “Rows” tab will showcase how the data exists within Google Drive, complete with embedded images.

Spreadsheet data seen in Google Drive

Google Drive Spreadsheet with Data

Notice that there are columns for Latitude and Longitude that are used to geocode the coordinates.  Fusion Tables also allow Google Drive users to create and associate objects with their spreadsheet records.  The in browser geocoding ranges in accuracy, depending on how your fields are configured.  For example, I created a Fusion Table for the 32 NFL Football teams, along with their XY location for where their arena is located.  The Arizona Cardinals play in Glendale, but the geocoder defaults to a Glendale located outside of Los Angeles instead.

Geocoding Glendale, Arizona

Geocoding Glendale, Arizona

Fortunately, Google Fusion Tables allow for customization of column types by using the Change function.

Change_Address

Unfortunately, using the “Two column location” check box does not work when trying to specify City and State as a two column location.  This would be useful in the event that a Latitude and Longitude are not available.

Change Type

The Two column location check box is hard coded to work with Latitude and Longitude values.  Thus rendering separate Address, City, State and Zip Code columns useless within the Two column location selection.

Longitude and Latitude values seem to be set as Two column locations by default.  However, Google Drive’s Fusion Table appear to interact with Longitude locations better than locations set with Latitude columns, despite those two columns being linked as a two column location.  Below is an example comparing the differences between using Lat and Long with my sample NFL Arena table.

Using Longitude to Geocode

Using Longitude to Geocode

Latitude Location

Using Latitude to Geocode

Using my Arena Name for the Arizona Cardinals, yields a similar result as using the XY values do.  Though there is a slight discrepancy, both Arena and XY geocode to the Arizona Cardinal’s arena in this case.

Cardinals Orthoimagery

Cardinals Satellite Imagery

Cardinals in Glendale, AZ

Cardinals in Glendale, AZ

Ideally, Google Fusion Tables appear to work better with data that isn’t parsed out into separate cells. Google Drive is equipped to manipulate data, but spreadsheets that are set to use the Fusion Table experiment are a little harder to manipulate.

To wrap it up, I wanted to gauge the community to see how many folks have looked into using Google Drive and Fusion tables on a project.  Does anyone have academic or business use stories for Google Fusion Tables?

Currently I have only played around with a couple sample data sets and am looking to put together a best practices guide for this web mapping tool.

Thanks a ton,
@ROB_MOR

Simon Garfield plugs his new book “On the Map” with Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition

On my way into the office this morning, I caught a Morning Edition segment on my local NPR affiliate about Simon Garfield’s new book entitled “On the Map.”  Garfield spoke with Steve Inskeep about everything from Ptolemy’s affect on Columbus’ voyage, to the Mercator Projection making Greenland appear larger than Africa, despite being a fraction of the size.

Reactions to Simon Garfield discussing “On The Map” with Steve Inskeep on NPR’s Morning Edition

One thing that I thought was particularly interesting was how the conversation between Garfield and Inskeep went to what the orientation, or the focal point, of a map connoted.  They discussed how old maps of Greece focused on the Island of Rhodes due to it being a popular vacation destination for Greeks.  They also discussed how maps on Smart Phones and GPS devices largely focus on the user and as such digital maps have become more egocentric in focus.

Ultimately, it was an interesting conversation and I highly recommend tuning in.  I believe this conversation is important in understanding the contemporary role that maps have on our digital lives.

Thanks a ton,
@ROB_MOR