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.


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,


Building a Theoretical Foundation for Prafix

Building a Theoretical Foundation for Prafix

I believe that there is a need to apply elements of Psychogeography and Phenomenology to make sense of spatial communication in the 21st century.  In building a curriculum, I often turn to these two studies to adapt their rich meaning in order to inspire a philosophical foundation to guide Prafix forward.  There is a role for elements of both of these schools of thought to be reinterpreted and applied to understanding geosocial and geomarketing datasets.

Ten years ago, before I becoming familiar with Guy Debord and Martin Heidegger in spatial context, I thought that there was a geographic relationship to how communication mediums could evoke cognitive change.  I imagined a map of dots, color coordinated and thematically shaded to visualize a given idea or identity.  Those points were fixed in a place, but there color could change over time depending on what influenced them.  Fast forward ten years and mobile computing technology could make it possible to allow these static points to roam freely as they social media savvy mobile phone users transcend physical geography.

Although it seems highly theoretical, most big data companies are selling this same exact idea to giant corporations.  What could be more valuable than point level data on your clients or potential customers?  I would argue that socioeconomic models that could predict socioeconomic consumer behavior could potentially be more valuable than the point level data itself.

I am interested in how technology can be used to help us better understand how space is perceived via communication platforms.  Social Media allows us to geocode our thoughts, essentially associating a thought bubble with a given terrestrial X, Y coordinate.  We could tell a more profound story by mapping out how those georeferenced thought bubbles evolved through space and time.

There is no shortage of geosocial or geomarketing solutions being made.  However, I believe with more theoretical discourse we can ensure that our developments are being made with a conscience.

Thanks a ton,

Adding Value to Mobile Game Development by Collecting Geospatial Data

Using Geospatial Technology to Enhance Mobile Phone Gaming

There’s been a surge in company’s building development kits, free of charge, to empower a user base to create on their behalf. One such company is Game Salad. They’re a hip little social gaming company with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Austin, TX.

Game Salad takes a totally unique approach to gaming. They are the providers of the back end video game designer and essentially crowd source content by giving away their tool kit free of charge. Game Salad has a unique way of capitalizing on their “gratis” intentions by serving in game ads to gamers, whom have downloaded a game created in the Game Salad environment.

Being a huge fan of film culture, I am really impressed with how Game Salad’s development kit was used by the Alamo Drafthouse to promote “Hobo with a Shotgun” with a mobile iOS game. There’s no denying that gaming is a great way for company’s to interact with their potential customers. However, gaming on mobile phones can open several new opportunities for businesses to leverage.

Game Salad is able to provide their tools for free due to monetizing on creators using their development kit to build a video game. This monetization is delivered through in game advertising. Currently it is widely recognized that Google is the leader of internet and mobile marketing, but there are a couple intelligent things that Game Salad can do to increase the effectiveness of their in game advertising. By introducing geography as an essential ingredient within their marketing algorithm, Game Salad could create higher conversion rates for their advertisers.

Adding Value to Mobile Game Development by Collecting Geospatial Data

Location doesn’t seem to be an integral part to Game Salad’s mobile marketing approach. By introducing location intelligence, Game Salad could open up conversations with company’s that are able to attract local businesses to advertise on their gaming network. Geospatial intelligence could be used by Game Salad to provide more personalized marketing messages to their gaming community.

For instance, imagine Game Salad knew that “Hobo with a Shotgun” was played most frequently within a mile of a sub shop between the hours of 11 and 1 on a particular intersection in a city. By collecting and visualizing this data, Game Salad could communicate this information to the sub shop. Game Salad could also add value to the conversation by informing the sub shop of ways that their marketing message could be fine tuned so as to be as relevant as possible to the sub shop’s potential customers. I would be interested in taking action, if I were to see a coupon displayed to me for my local sub shop while playing “Hobo with a Shotgun”.

When you take the above example and think in terms of Game Salads’ entire game archives, there becomes huge potential to collect data across several socioeconomic indices in order to collect a dynamic data set. This data could be even more powerful if it were to be informed by geographic analysis pulled from tools that already exist on most smart phones. There are several companies that already offer this level of Spatial Information Technology intelligence, but it seems as though some companies are taking their time in realizing the value added to their product by integrating it within their marketing algorithms.

My recommendation to Game Salad, and large data aggregation companies across the information technology industry, is to correlate functions used with your smart phone applications to a place in space. This location data doesn’t need to be limited to just points, because polylines and line segments have a place in analysis in order to differentiate between different types of traffic. Building a mass data management tool that is capable of parsing smart phone users that are stationary versus those that are riding in an automobile is pivotal in understanding how your users are utilizing their space. This is important to companies like Game Salad because it can help them determine users that are playing a game in bed from those that are traveling in an automobile. Over time, this data can tell Game Salad more about the places where their games are being played, which in turn helps Game Salad communicate their potential advertising clients about their marketing. This could ultimately help Game Salad add value to their customers, both purchasing advertising and developing video games.

Knowing how people transcend space, while using your mobile application, is a means of quantifying the psychogeographical perception of a given space. Knowing how use your application while being a given location creates rich data for developers to improve on and advance their advertising design so as to seamless and relevant with the reality that surrounds smart phone gamers.

Here’s a link to get started with the Game Salad development kit.

Here’s a link to read more on the “Hobo with a Shotgun” mobile application from Wired Magazine.

Feel free to reply with ways you’d add value to companies like Game Salad in the comment sections.

Thanks a ton,