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Google intros Maps mashups for dummies

Google has just released a new way to create Maps mashups. It's so simple even a reporter can use it.

If you're like me, you've enjoyed the map mashup phenomenon from the sidelines, due to a personal lack of coding skills. But now anyone and their mother can make mashups with a new Google tool, "My Maps." It's a new feature in Google's Maps service that lets anyone create customizable maps using a simple drag-and-drop interface. (See story and slide show.)

My Maps offers a plethora of marker icons and colors to choose from and they are inserted onto the map by dragging and dropping. It's easy to include photos and videos. You cut and paste the URL from photos from Flickr or other Web sites and cut and paste the "embed" coding from videos on YouTube or Google Video. People can choose to make their maps private, and distribute the URL quietly to friends, or public, and the map will be included in Google's map search index. My Maps creations can also be viewed in Google Earth. Unfortunately, it doesn't allow you to grab photos or video from your hard drive yet, but Google Maps product manager Jessica Lee says that functionality is coming.

There are similar mashups for dummies types of services, notably Platial, dubbed "The Peoples' Atlas," and Microsoft's Live Search Maps Collection Hub. But neither of those services offer the same features or visibility as Google's My Maps, particularly since My Maps offers inclusion in the Google search index.

Google also unveiled this week an experimental tool for creating a mashup using data from Google Spreadsheets. However, that tool requires some technical or programming know-how and requires that users have their own Web site to host the mashup, and it does not allow for insertion of video or photos, says Lee. In addition, those mashups are not included in Google's search index, as the My Maps mashups are.

It's exciting to create my first mashup--something I had previously figured was out of my reach.