Google Maps is a free web mapping service application that allows developers to create “mashups” with other data and embed the map on third-party websites via the Google Maps API.

Tons of groups and individuals have come up with some really interesting map tools that display everything from American Idol contestants” hometowns to localized crime data. The best part about the Google Maps, compared to its competitors, is the high level of user interactivity that allows you to drag the map and double click to zoom (by performing asynchronous network requests using Ajax so grid squares are downloaded from the server and inserted into the page). While you can translate almost any data points into a map, the keys to a successful mashup are simple: a map should make the data more useful or relevant and there should be multiple data points that, ideally, can build over time with user input (i.e. the Seven Wonders of the World map falls a little flat).

Here are some examples of interesting Google Map mashups, including one that Beaconfire built, to show the breadth of what can be done (and what we can help you do!).

  1. This mash-up shows hospitals around your zip code and their performance on major standards of care measures (Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, Pneumonia, and Surgical Infection Prevention) set out by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. We’ve all heard it: Location, location, location – the most important thing when it comes to real estate. Housing Maps is a marriage of Craigslist and Google Maps makes it easier to search for housing based on neighborhood preference and also makes it easy to search by pictures, price, number of bedrooms, city and date posted.
  3. Ironic San’s Guide to Ghostbusters: Photographer David Friedman was apparently just playing around when he developed this virtual tour of the filming locations of the classic Ghostbusters.
  4. Campaign Tracker: The Washington Post’s Presidential Campaign Tracker “uses information from campaigns, media reports and other sources to compile a listing of events involving presidential candidates and their spouses.”
  5. This virtual protest map (which is a replica of one that Beaconfire built for a client) is a great example of how to use Google Maps for online organizing, advocacy and supporter engagement. The message was “Join the online march. Pick your sign. Get it on the map.” helping supporters see how they connect with other people standing up for the cause.
  6. Like the Ghostbuster map that is a virtual tour of a movie, facilitates a virtual tour of a book, The Bible. Interesting concept though I had trouble finding a book and chapter that actually had points on the map. If you want to explore it yourself, try Genesis chapter 13.
  7. Unfortunately only available in the UK, Bar Crawl allows you to pick your area, rank of the bars you’re interested in going to and how many you want and it will plot out a pub crawl on a map for you, complete with address and phone number of each. An Americanized version Pub Walk doesn’t appear to be as good, mostly because I live here so know they are missing a whole lot of local bars.
  8. With the tagline “Make it personal. Explore options. Find Providers,” The Funeral Site map tool is done by the national registry of American Funeral Homes. I am fortunate to have no use for this one but I imagine in a time of need, this is more useful than a phone book.
  9. Washington Post’s Local Explorer: On this map you can search for practically anything in a DC-area neighborhood: crime, schools, places of worship, post offices, gas stations, metro stations, you name it. I’m not sure if there are maps like this for other cities but it’s quite comprehensive and useful.
  10. is a resource where people who do not feel comfortable with traditional public restrooms can find safe alternatives. It is part of a larger advocacy and research project tackling gender free, inclusive bathrooms and another good example of a public policy issue being addressed using Google Maps.
  11. and are perfect examples of how a mashup is only as good as the data in it. I looked at six separate golf course locator tools and these had more than twice as many points on the map for the DC area, though I still can’t figure out from the two which is better.
  12. Though definitely not the most attractive mashup, Hurricane Information Map is a concept well worth highlighting. It is “intended for the use by people affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita who have or are trying to find information about the status of specific locations affected by the storm and its aftermath.”
  13. MapSkip: Launched in August 2007, this tool “makes the world a canvas for our stories and photos” and is very well done (and my personal favorite). Though they have only collected 200 stories so far, their mission is to “create a weave of stories about the places in our lives” because “…many of our stories are about places. Where we fell in love, had the dream vacation, took that great picture or, well, joined the rebellion.”
  14. BookWormzStarbucks FinderGymPostBank Anywhere and Gawker Stalker can help you find your local bookstore, Starbucks, gym, bank and celebrity respectively.
  15. Despite all the useful things you can do with mashups, I found a handful of odd but amusing maps that I’ve lumped together to share: “If I walk in a straight line around the world, where will I pass?”If the Earth were a sandwich?Who is sick?, and OurDumbWorld

For more, check out NetSquaredGoogle Maps Mania blog or this website.