I can see my house from here - part 4
I haven't updated this series of posts for a while, and there's been a lot of development in the online mapping space since then. Google Maps finally got some decent aerial photos and street maps of New Zealand, and you can now even search for addresses. Wises allegedly spent vast sums on upgrading their site (and they certainly did on advertising it), but their interface seems clunky, error-prone and painfully slow in these days of Ajax-driven real-time goodness. Local business listings should be their strength, given their connections to UBD, but the listings are far from current (Fat Ladies Arms, anyone?) and spatially inaccurate enough to be misleading. And the maps themselves are just as car-focussed as ever: according to their maps, Cuba Mall is just a grey void. You can't drive there, so it doesn't exist.
Meanwhile, ZoomIn's been busy. This morning they launched ZoomIn version 2.0, with an updated interface, new functionality and extra content. Unlike Google (which has no local listings) or Wises (which is tied to a business directory), ZoomIn has taken an open approach and allows users to add their own places of interest, complete with photos, comments and star ratings. They've been doing that for over six months, but they've now added tags (a la Technorati, Flickr etc), thus taking them further into the Web 2.0 "folksonomy" space. The tagging system is new, so not much has been tagged yet beyond the obvious (café, bar etc), but what's there so far demonstrates that the developers are true Wellingtonians (check out the only place tagged as "cool"!).
This "folk geography" approach allows the name of this post series (which, incidentally, is one of the more common searches to find this blog) to take on a more literal and personal meaning. For instance, here is someone's rather poignant comment on the fate of their old house. They still have the "groups" approach as well, so groups like my old "waterfront changes" group still work. You can also do free-text searches combining tags and addresses (such as "parks in Wellington"), and there's one very useful new feature: search results update as you pan around the map.
As well as the user-created places, they've added some content of their own, for a total of over 30,000 places. Courtesy of Metlink, for example, they've added all the bus stops and railway stations in the Greater Wellington region, enabling you to do useful searches like "bus stops near Aro Street". The details page for each stop then links to the timetables for routes that stop there: imagine what could be done if Metlink's timetable pages were more mashup-friendly! Speaking of mashups, it looks like the site API (allowing you to do things like add places and groups via an HTTP request) has been deprecated for now. The mapping API is still there, so my first mashup attempt still works, and now that it provides circle, polygons and access to tile layers, it may now be as flexible as Google's.
The site is a work in progress, and probably always will be, so there are still a few ways in which it could be improved. For instance, it will only show a handful of search results on the map at one time: that's presumably to allow them all to appear on the sidebar at the same time, but it can still be a little misleading (I'm sure there are more than seven cafés in Auckland!). The business listings are also not always up-to-date, but given the rapidity with which such things change, anything short of employing a dedicated team of geo-boozers staggering the streets with GPS units is likely to have the same problem. At least anyone can leave a comment to inform other users of the changes. Finally, the aerial photos disappeared a while ago (apparently due to a change of map projection), but rumour has it they may be reappearing shortly. When that happens, with its clean interface, good performance and unique community features, this should surely be the online map of choice for most New Zealand users.