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Web Maps with the Google Map API

Dionysios is a web engineer at the National Technical University of Athens and a freelance consultant. He can be contacted through his blog at http://synodinos.wordpress.com.

A common challenge for many web developers is the creation of web applications that capture and describe geographical information. Nowadays, online maps are showing up everywhere, either as standalone applications or as modules for larger portals and services.

For such tasks, traditional image-based solutions fall short because the acquisition of the media tends to be expensive as they involve air photographs or copyrighted geopolitical maps. In the case of large-scale maps, the ad hoc use of satellite imaging can prove even more costly. Also, for this imaging to be easily available with the proper degree of usability, it requires lots of coding, which often introduces incompatibilities for many browsers.

Some vendors attack the problem by using proprietary plug-ins and development environments. But this approach still has many of the same problems as the final product is bound to specific environments and requires major funding for licensing.

For the last five years, we had been using a proprietary solution to manage a small percentage of the geographical information about various university locations. This solution had only a few locations and would run in only one browser on one operating system. Moreover, it required users to download a big plug-in. Also, it wasn't stable under heavy use.

For the next version of our service, we wanted to map more locations—in fact, everywhere in the country where the university has locations for labs, research facilities, and the like. The front-end would have to be stable and operate on all major operating systems and browsers. It would also have to be flexible enough for us to build features and functionality. Finally, it should be a solution that has the acceptance of the rest of the market since we wanted to make a long-term investment that would pay off as our service would scale.

In this article, I present our solution—a web front-end that utilizes several aspects of the freely available Google Map API to provide a usable, robust, cross-platform web map.

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