Sunday, August 29, 2010

Westminster commercial noise map - experiment with Google Fusion Tables

I want to produce maps from a set of government data for my local website. But I don't write code and don't think I should have to. So I am experimenting with simple ways of producing a map from a real data set. First off Google Fusion Tables.

Noise is a big problem in an urban area and Westminster City Council has published via FOI a list of commercial noise complaints with approximate locations (they take the street numbers off for some reason). It's at I downloaded the spreadsheet of data and tidied it up a tiny bit, putting the word 'London' where it was missing from each address field.

Then i uploaded it to Google Docs and imported it into Google Fusion Tables a Google Labs product that has been around for a year. I hit Edit, Modify Columns to tell the sheet what was in each column and then I hit the Visualize menu and selected - Map. The following emerged, just like that:

There's a small snag for me - I couldn't figure out how to configure the simple weblink to show a particular level of zoom in a map. If you get an embeddable link then this will give you zoom control - but you can't use iframes in the popular publishing platform. There is a KML option but practically no corporate desktops nor government departments run google earth - this diminishes the use of the data to achive social impact.

Pretty good all in all - quick and simple with no techno stuff, the help page was useful. It isn't perfect, but it's easy. If you can use a spreadsheet you can take some real public data and make a map to make a point. Any suggestions for other visualisation services i could try with no coding required are welcome.

This small post was just done for my own benefit and i wasn't expecting it to get the traffic it has. If you have suddenly landed here from the Guardian or elsewhere then you should know that I run a small business, talk about local with 4IP and Screen West Midlands funding to help people get a voice online. I am also on the Local Public Data panel for CLG to advise them on freeing up data from local government. If you are reading this from Google and also hadn't heard of Fusion Tables then feel free to send me some corporate bumf for the free publicity - some cupcakes maybe or a fetching jacket (XL).


  1. re: kml

    Saved as .kml the file can be shared, and displayed in (paste url into the top input box).

    try this one:

    Then click "search maps" button to see the maps with toggle/checkboxes for each element.

    You can then go on. See menu on the map? click on 'Link', copy the top url (pretty long) paste it into your browser window, share that url.

    Also optionally minify it and spread it around. viz:

    Also, I know this wanders off from your non-code topic, but Gmaps latest version 3 uses kml far more natively, and does not need you to register for an API key.

    So literally, a few lines of code can get a kml file on a map in a page.

    This example has many added extras including streetview, zoom in on the centre of uk etc.

    If anyone is feeling a bit braver, or has a bit of Gmaps v2 knowledge and wants a few pointers I made a quick and dirty list of gotchas - upgrade to Gmaps V3 - Oily rag view.


    Came across this site yesterday, make your own kml layers with point and click tools.

  3. You're right: is understandably rather cautious about letting people embed iframes in its pages. But the 'download it and run it yourself' version of WordPress is a bit more relaxed about such things, for admin users anyway - or can certainly be made to relax.

    In my experience, is fine for a project for a year, maybe two. But you start uncovering enough of these problems, and seeing enough things you know WordPress can do stand-alone - plugins, themes, forum, BuddyPress, etc etc - that you decide it's time to go it alone.

    Thankfully, the process of exporting from .com and importing into a stand-alone is quick and (usually) easy.

    Although of course, it does mean you need someone on your team who's willing and able to take on the system admin duties. Unless TalkAboutLocal would want to consider providing its own managed hosting environment, tailored and optimised for hyperlocal? With the latest release of WordPress, it's much easier to manage a family of sites, giving each plenty of independence whilst maintaining enough central control. Definitely worth considering..?


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