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Dynamic Maps: Ideas and Inspiration for Your Site

You’ve probably seen all sorts of maps around the web, the most common being directional maps for restaurants or other businesses, like this one for PF Chang's.

This type of map is used commonly to map out business locations. However, there's more to dynamic mapping than location maps. Here are some examples of maps you can easily integrate into your site.

Maps with placed markers

The simplest map involves hand placing and editing each of your markers on the map individually. This, obviously, is not the best way to map a lot of data, but if you need a quick map, it’s the way to go. Using Google’s My Maps is the easiest way to do this.

Here’s a super quick map we put together to show some favorite restaurants in Richmond, VA. It was simple to create and easy to embed here. All the information you need to do this for your site is available at Google's My Maps.

Markers pulled from database

Our dynamic map for Public Service Jobs Directory (PSJD) is a great example of what you can do with Google maps using data from a database. PSJD is a job search site for people in the law profession who’d like to work in public service. Job search results display in a grid or in a map.

We also implemented a Google map for Hidden Creek Apartments that's been customized to reflect Hidden Creek's branding elements and look-and-feel. Note that this map has custom icons indicating the type of amenities that are marked and navigation that allows the user to choose the display. Layers in the map allow users to filter results.

Maps using geospatial data

One step further is a map type that uses geospatial data to populate the markers. We’ve created a couple examples of this type of map using Google maps and also with Leaflet, a javascript library for maps.

So you want a map

Before jumping in and putting maps all over your site, you'll want to think about a few things. As with most things, planning is essential. Think about the questions below.

What is your map’s purpose?
In other words, what questions will it answer for your users? Simple directional maps answer the question “Where is it?” but maps that integrate more complex sets of data may not have such clear questions and answers. Think about your data and how you want your users to use it.

How will it look and behave?
Each marker is a point location on the map; not only is the location displayed but you can also add and format text, embed a photo or video, and link to more information. Again, think about what you want here and what you want your users to do.

Where will you get the data?
Determine where you can get other data, whether from your own database or through geospatial data offered by third-party providers. For example, for our DC-area map examples, we used the map tiles and geocoding service from Cloudmade.com.

Learn more

There are quite a few blogs and sites devoted to mapping, from the map collection at the Library of Congress to Google’s mapping blog. The National Geographic site includes a vast print map collection as well as interactive maps that incorporate photography, video, and data to illustrate trends and developments around the world. For fun and inspiration, check out the Strange Maps posts on Big Think where you can find a Tacography of Mexico and the Procrasti-Nation map. And to play around a bit with creating your own map, give National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive a try.

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