Google Fusion Table Maps And Javascript: The Power

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The challenge for displaying maps online is the how. How are we going to place a map online for viewers to interact with the data quickly, snapily, and do it at low cost. While boxed solutions exist such as Tableau and ESRI Arcserver both have their respective Pros and Cons.

Tableau: Tableau costs money, however it is a great piece of software to easily display spatial data from a database such as Access, Excel, or a .dbf. I have noticed that tableau maps are not as snappy as Google Fusion Maps. For example the ability to zoom in and click on a zip code within a state map is nowhere near as easy or natural as a Google Fusion table. So Tableau is preferable if you have the budget and don’t really need to zoom in or interact within the map itself.

ESRI Arc Server: Esri’s Arc Server has many strengths if you are already working in the Arc Map environment and have lots of .shp files in your library. One of the nice features is that you can easily set what the map should look like when you zoom in at different levels. This is possible with Google Fusion Tables/Maps however you need to know some Javascript for the functionality. The potential downside of Arc Server is that it also costs a bit of money and you will need to update your Arc Server occasionally which can be tedious if you have live maps already up on your site using older versions of Arc Server. Not to mention I have noticed Arc Server displayed maps don’t feel anywhere near as snappy or alive as Google Fusion Tables.

Google Fusion Tables: The benefits of Fusion Tables is that it is a free service provided by Google. You don’t need to pay to use/display maps on your website. This makes it a key candidate for Non-Profits, Academia, Hobbyists alike. It is incredibly snappy. When you zoom in on a map you are running on top of google maps so everything feels native and looks natural. The real challenge with fusion tables, if you want to go beyond displaying a simple map, is learning some javascript. If you simply want to display a map where a user can click on a polygon and see a pop-up with information then you don’t need to learn Javascript, you can simply do one Google Fusion Tables tutorial and start working. If you want to build a more interactive map with a timeline bar where you can scroll from 1990 to Present or change the polygons from zipcodes to counties then you will need to learn some javascript and html5. I prefer the the Google Fusion Table approach because the map products look incredibly professional and interactive and the learning curve is an obstacle that is worth overcoming in this case.

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