I have been working on a Google maps mashup that has been a lot of work. While I might be able to get some benefit from investing more time and energy in this, I kept thinking to myself, “Google could do this so much better themselves if they wanted to. They’ve got the API, they’ve got the bandwidth, they’ve got the computational horsepower.”
Here’s what I’d love to see Google do:
- Make area-based mashups easier. Put polygon generation in the API. Let me feed you XML of the polygon vertices, the data values, and what color mapping I want, and draw it for me. (Note that with version 2 of the API, it might work to use SVG for this. I have to look into that.)
- Make the polygons first-class objects in a separate layer with identities that can feed back into other forms easily. Let me roll over a tract and get its census ID. Let me click on a polygon and pop up a marker with all the census information for that tract.
- Make it easy to combine data from multiple sources. Let me feed you XML of census tract IDs, data values, and color mapping, and tell you that I want to use census tract polygon information (or county polygons, or voting precinct polygons, or …) from some other site, and draw it for me.
- Host polygon information on Google. Let me indicate that I want census tract polygons and draw them for me.
- Provide information visualization tools. Let me indicate that I want to see population density in one map, percent white in another, median income in a third, and housing vacancy rates in a fourth, and synchronize them all together. (I actually had a view like that working, but it is computationally expensive enough that I worry about making it available.) Let me do color maps in two or three dimensions, e.g. hue and opacity.
- Start hosting massive databases. Start with the Census data, then continue on to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, CIA factbook information, USGS maps, state and federal budgets, and voting records. Sure, the information is out there already, but it’s in different formats in different places. Google is one of the few places that has the resources to bring them all together. They could make it easy for me to hook that data easily into information visualization tools.
- Get information from other countries. (This is actually tricky: sometimes governments copyright and charge money for their official data.)
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to show an animation of the price of bread divided by the median income over a map of Europe from ten years before World War II to ten years after?
So how would Google make any money from this? The most obvious way would be to put ads on the sites that display the data.
A friend of mine pointed out that Google could also charge for the data in the same way that they currently charge for videos on Google Video. Google could either charge the visualization producers, who would then need to extract money from their consumers somehow, or they could charge the consumers of the visualizations.
Who would pay for this information? Politicians. Marketers. Disaster management preparedness organizations. Municipal governments. Historians. Economists. The parents of seventh-graders who desperately need to finish their book report. Lots of people.