Fire in SoCal – Google Mashups Examined

The end of October saw an outbreak of Santa Anna winds driving flames across the Southland. Many newspapers used Google map mashups to display this “breaking news” in geographic context. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t.

KPBS Fire Map


1. Is a Google Mashup appropriate?

  • Yes, millions of people wanted street-level analysis
    (the KPBS map got over 1.5 million hits)
  • Timely content, easy to deploy

2. Stay focused

  • Don’t ask the map to accomplish too much
  • Give the map enough space to speak (make it big!)

3. Provide an entry point

  • “Start here” amongst the clutter
  • Maps should tell stories, not just be data dumps
  • Include a legend – not all symbols are self explanatory

4. Provide levels of information

In the map

  • mouseOver (feature names) “tooltip” behavior
  • onClick (brief description) “bubble window” behavior that takes up max of 35% of map (minimizes scrolling of the map on display, and allows for more map context to be read while window is displayed)
  • Use smart legends to allow symbol visibility to be toggled on/off by category on complicated maps

Complementing the map

  • “More Info” links to detailed information and related content.
  • Combine the map with a database display along side the map, not in the map neatline

5. Precision versus Accuracy

Limit map zoom

  • If you don’t have an exact location, don’t allow the user to zoom in past a certain scale

Show the detailed area, not a point on zoom in

  • If you’re showing streets, show detailed fire features as polygons not points

6. Chronology

  • If possible, display previous day’s map along with today’s (NY Times)
  • Compare with prior event (last year) (Washington Post)


One Response to “Fire in SoCal – Google Mashups Examined”

  1. [...] The Washington Post had also been investigating how we could better integrate Google mashups into our online workflow and this was a good project to learn more about the API. I have written previously on mashups in the news here: [...]