Google Maps and BBC Backstage

It looks like Google launched Google Maps UK just in time for the BBC Backstage hackers. Backstage, to refresh your memory, is a project to open up BBC data in feeds and formats that users can remix and hack with. A lot of the latest Backstage hacks have used Google Maps.

traveldata plots travel advisories (“M6 West Midlands – Northbound exit slip closed at J6, Spaghetti Junction because of a fuel spillage … one lane of the main carriageway also closed on the approach”) on a Google Map. The result is a little like supergreg’s Google Maps-Yahoo! Traffic mashup (Greg will be at Where 2.0 by the way)–quite useful as an “at a glance” view of the day’s traffic nightmare…. There’s a lot of this “map as UI” now Google Maps has brought it within the reach of the average web hacker, and I’m curious to see how it plays out once the next generation of web geo tools hits: I expect it will turn out that maps are useful as a UI in only some cases, and the rest of the time we want search boxes, saved user preferences, etc. to remove the need to navigate the maps.

For example, another Backstage app that uses Google Maps is Sport Map, letting you find the nearest premiership (soccer) team and get the headlines about that team. It was interesting–I checked in on my friend Piers, to see what his neighbours would be talking about (apparently Defender Steve Rowland and winger Jeff Smith have signed new contracts with Port Vale, go figure). I’m not convinced that maps are a useful interface here for finding text data like this: either you know the team already (in which case navigating the map is clumsy) or you know the town (in which case you really need a searchbox) or you are a stranger like myself (in which case predicating the UI around a strange land is not much help). I ended up using Multimap to find where his town was, then find it on the Google Map. I think it’s clever and nifty but not a breakthrough.

And finally, gmaptrack lets you see the locations of Central London traffic cameras and (by clicking on the icons on the map) see the current image from the camera. It’s been a very cool way for me to learn more about the geography of London, and more than anything else in the last 12 months it’s made me want to go back there. Check out these pretties:


By the very nature of Google Mappery, these are all Ajax apps. A map-less Ajax app I’ve seen recently from BBC Backstage is Nigel Crawley’s Ajax RSS News Reader, which types the story out. It’s clever and pretty, though the “hot off the wire” feel doesn’t really add anything to the story. Thanks to Sky for pointing me at it.

It has been great to see the response to BBC Backstage, not just in apps but in ideas too. Like Minded Linking is clever, and Keyword RSS Feeds reminded me of something that should be standard in most CMS with RSS feeds. I can’t wait to see what will come next from the minds of the BBC users.