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Mapping with Google

If you have a large number of points such as retail sites or customers to map, there are three main ways to do this using Google’s mapping technologies, each has both advantages and disadvantages. They all require a specific variation of an XML file called a KML and involve geocoding. Geocoding is a process whereby the postal code is translated into latitude and longitude values which are mapped to provide actual points on the map. If you do need to map a large number of points, then the easiest way to create this file is by using Google Earth Pro. This is a one-off cost of $400 and has the facility to import csv files which it geocodes and can then be exported to a KML file with that information.

1. Using Google Maps online.
To import a large number of points to an online Google Map is quite straight forward as long as you have a copy of Google Earth Pro to create the KML file. This map can then be embedded into any webpage if required which means it is available to anyone with Internet access and the website address. The downside is that you have to have a copy of Google Earth Pro and the map is published to the web albeit via a hard to guess url. This obviously limits the sensitivity of information that can be published.

2. Using the Google Maps API to embed a map in a website
Creating a map this way means that once a csv file has been exported, say from an Access database or Excel spreadsheet, the map data can be imported into a MySQL database and geocoded to provide latitude and longitude from the postcode. Once the php scripts are copied onto the website from freely available examples from Google, a KML file can be produced. Apart from the ease of updating, the upside is that any amount of information can be published as it can be password-protected and can be viewed by anyone with Internet access and the website password. The downside is that the geocoding is not done with the same resources as either of the other two options and can be inaccurate at least in the UK. Whether this is an issue depends on the degree of accuracy required.

3. Using Google Earth
This is a free download available from Google and can therefore be installed on any required workstation at no cost. Once a KML file has been created, it can be updated by emailing a new KML file which can then be opened in Google Earth. The upside is that more sensitive information can be distributed and Google Earth provides greater functionality in terms of the way data can be viewed. The downside is that it is only as up to date as the last time the KML file was updated by the user and requires user interaction to perform the update.

Out of the three, the embedded map produced using the Google Maps API is the least desirable simply if the requirement is for accuracy in the mapped points. That is it’s only downside, but may be sufficient in itself to discount it. Of the other two options, both require a means of geocoding a large number of points that can be most simply achieved by using Google Earth Pro. There is a cost involved, but if only one person is involved in maintaining the maps it is a one-off charge.

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