Author PhotoBy Christiaan Adams, Developer Advocate, Crisis Response Team
Cross-posted with the Blog

On June 2nd and 3rd, volunteers around the world are coming together for the Random Hacks of Kindness Global Hackathon. Born in 2009, Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) is the brainchild of a partnership among Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, HP, NASA and the World Bank. The RHoK international community is over 4000 strong, encompassing not only computer programmers but also engineers, designers, web experts, project managers and other tech-savvy do-gooders, as well as subject matter experts in areas as diverse as disaster risk management, climate change, water, health care and human rights. This group of unlikely collaborators works together to define challenges facing humanity in local communities all around the world, and then to rapidly prototype solutions during an intensive weekend of round-the-clock work.

Fueled by plenty of coffee and a strong desire to make a difference in the world, "hackers for humanity" working alongside subject matter experts have created innovative solutions to pressing problems in their communities.
In the two short years since its inception, RHoK communities have sprung up in close to 50 cities around the world, with the support of over 180 diverse partner organizations, from government and academia, to the non-profit and private sectors.

RHoK Global in June 2012 will be taking place simultaneously in 21+ cities globally, from Seattle to Santo Domingo, from Philadelphia to Prague. Googlers will be attending the events in San Francisco, Prague, and other locations, and we hope you can join us.

Be a part of this global movement to make the world a better place through the innovative use of technology. Register at and come out to hack for humanity in a city near you on June 2nd and 3rd, 2012!

Christiaan Adams is a developer advocate with the Google Earth Outreach Team and’s Crisis Response Team, where he helps nonprofits and disaster response organizations to use online mapping tools. When he’s not at work, he likes to go hiking or mountain biking, using Google Maps, of course.

Posted by Scott Knaster, Editor

Many mobile apps allow you to attach your location to an update or photo before sharing it with friends. It’s great to tell your friends when you are doing something fun or exciting, and often this corresponds to a particular event like a concert or sports game. In this situation it’s rarely the venue that matters but the details of the event itself, such as the artist, band, or team.

Often these sharing apps let you enter the name of a place if it’s not returned when searching for places nearby. Apps using the Google Places API to handle these searches can report user added places back to the Places API, which will then blend them into subsequent search results so that other users benefit from them. However in order to attach an event to an update many users enter events as new places, which can cause the quality of search results to deteriorate over time as results fill up with events from the past.

To address this concern, the Places API now offers explicit support for adding events, which are associated with a specific place, such as a concert venue, and have a fixed lifetime. During the lifetime of an event it is returned in search results, attached to the place concerned. Once the event has ended it is no longer included in search results, but remains accessible by its unique id so that the user’s location history is preserved.

Andrés Ferraté of our Maps Developer Relations team discusses the Events features of the Places API in more detail in this screencast on the Google Developers YouTube channel.

For more information on how to add support for adding and surfacing events to your Places API applications, please check out our documentation for Events in the Places API, and Places API Search. If you have any questions please join our community of Places API developers on Stack Overflow.

Map of the Week: Airbnb
Why we like it: Airbnb has created a really great ‘search by map’ interface for their vacation rentals services. There’s also a really nice implementation of Google Street View to help renters make an informed decision about the rental and the surrounding neighborhood.

For a lot of people, the months of June, July, and August mean vacation time. As the price of just about everything rises, it can be difficult to find a unique and exciting place to stay within your budget. Luckily there’s Airbnb, which is a great way to find short-term accommodations rented out by private parties.

When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay, location is everything and Airbnb has invested heavily in creating mapping tools to make the right connections. A nice feature of the website is the ability to search by map for places to rent. The search interface is intuitive and easy to use.

For security reasons, you aren’t able to know the exact property or the exact address, but Airbnb places you in the right neighborhood so that you can use Street View to get a better idea of what’s around. A nice added UI feature is a “Rotate Street View” button, which automatically glides the imagery around the neighborhood.

Airbnb is a global operation and there’s a Google Map for everywhere there are Airbnb rentals (which is just about every corner of the globe). So wherever you’re travelling, there’s a good chance that Airbnb has rental for you and Google Maps API tools to help you find it. Good luck and safe travels on your next vacation!

Author Photo
We have a couple of events in the next two weeks. Andrés Ferraté and I will be at the SMI Developer Day 2012 in Buenos Aires on the 23rd and Mundo Geo in São Paulo on the 30th of May. This will be my first trip to Argentina, so I’m very excited, and hope that we’ll see y’all there.

If you’re new to the Google Maps API, or know someone who is, this new screencast by Chris Broadfoot is a great way to start:

And finally, on Tuesday, Josh Livni from my team held office hours with Peter Birch, the Product Manager for Google Earth. They talked about the latest cool features in Google Earth and answered questions. Here’s the video from the event:

Posted by Mano Marks, Google Maps Developer Relations Team

Map of the Week: Made in NY Digital Map
Why we like it: A beautiful visualization of tech companies in New York City, which uses Styled Maps and our Marker Clusterer library. Also, this is the first map to come to us directly from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (perhaps as a result of his pledge to learn code in 2012:)!

This week’s ‘Map of the Week’ comes to us directly from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg! On Tuesday at Internet Week New York, Mayor Bloomberg released Made in New York as a resource for job seekers. The map is a visualization of the city’s tech startups that connects jobs seekers with job listings.

To help users better visualize all the data on the map, Marker Clusterer is used to group together a collection of points that are in close proximity to each other. The resulting clusters are color coded by the number of listings that they contain, and a Styled Map is used to make the data stand out better.

At launch Made in New York contains more than 500 companies. Of those companies, about 325 are currently hiring. You can sort the map by digital companies, investors, and co-working/incubator spaces

Mayor Bloomberg has high hopes for this Google Map. At the conference Bloomberg stated “We expect this map to be another tool that helps propel our tech industry forward.” With a map as beautifully designed as Made in New York, good things are sure to follow.

The Google Places API allows web and mobile app developers to search Google’s index of business listings and POI data. Since launching the Places API last year we’ve received a lot of great feedback from developers, in response to which we’ve implemented a number of additional features. Today we are taking a closer look at two of them: keyword search and rank by distance.

Keyword search
When searching for business it’s often the case that you have very fine grained requirements. You don’t just want a restaurant, you want a Mexican restaurant. You don’t just want a clothes shop, you want a vintage clothes shop. You don’t just a want a bar, you want a bar that offers live music.

The Google Places API offers filtering over 100 different types, including restaurant, clothing_store, and bar. As rich as this type scheme is, it can not cover the infinite range of fine grained requirements that you or your users might have.

For these situations the Places API now offers keyword search, which searches places based on an arbitrary text string. Results are matched against all the information that Google has about a business, including country specific categories, cuisine, and Google review content.

Keyword searches can also be combined with type filters. For example, you could add a type filter of ‘bar’ to a keyword search for ‘wine’ to ensure your search results include only drinking establishments, and not wine merchants.
Rank by distance
By default, the Google Places API orders the search results it returns using the same ranking algorithm as Google Maps, which prioritises places that are popular or prominent. This is great for local discovery and check-in apps, as these are the places likely to be the most interesting or relevant. However for certain types of search, such as gas stations or atms, the closest result is usually preferable.

To help with these use case the Places API can now rank results strictly by distance. In order to rank results by distance you must use some form of query or filter on the search. This can be a name filter, a type filter, or a keyword search. When results are ranked by distance it is not necessary to provide a search radius as the Places API will try to return the 20 closest results within reasonable distance.
Keyword search and rank by distance are available in both the Places API web service and in the places library of the JavaScript Maps API v3. You can try these new features using the map below. Enter any keywords into the text field, and optionally filter over business types using the drop down menu on the right. You can also switch to ranking by distance, in which case the places closest to the center of the map (indicated by the red map pin) will be returned:

These new features are a direct result of feedback from Places API developers. If you would like to help us improve the Places API further, please submit ideas for new features using the Maps API Issue Tracker. For assistance using these features, or any other aspect of the Places API, you can find us on Stack Overflow.

Author PhotoWe’ve had two different Google Maps API office hours events since I last posted here. Last week week, Marcelo Camelo and Paul Saxman hosted office hours focused on the Google Places API:

Then this week, Chris Broadfoot and Luke Mahe hosted a no-holds-barred, ask questions about anything office hours, Sydney style:

But why is Fab Friday happy this week? Because we ran across mappiness, which maps where people have reported being happy on Twitter in the last week. Why we’re happy is that they’ve developed a creative solution to the too-many-markers problem. People often use clustering to solve that problem, particularly using the MarkerClusterer library of the Google Maps API Utility Library. Instead, mappiness has developed a spider-like visualization similar to what Google Earth uses.

They’ve open sourced the library, so if you want to use that same visualization, you can.

Posted by Mano Marks, Google Maps Developer Relations Team

How often do you find yourself filling in an online form that looks something like this?

Be it a shipping address for an online order, a credit card billing address, or booking a taxi, address entry forms are ubiquitous online. And every time I have to fill one in it drives me crazy. Why? Because I know there is a much better way...

Google Places Autocomplete is a feature of the Google Places API and the places library of the Google Maps API v3. It provides your applications with the type-ahead-search behaviour of the Google Maps search field. You only have to start typing an address, and Autocomplete can fill in the rest.

By default, Autocomplete will give you the full address as a single line of text, but we know that there are many times where you need the address in structured format, such as an address entry form. Fortunately you can also retrieve the full details for each completion, which includes the structured address, using either the Autocomplete.getPlace() method of the Maps API, or using the Places API Details service.

You can also provide Autocomplete with a hint as to the approximate location or area you want to favour in the completions. By sourcing that location hint using W3C Geolocation and filling in the structured address from the Place details, you can easily build a far better address entry experience for your users:

There isn’t a single address entry form on Earth that could not be improved by using Google Places Autocomplete. If you want to serve your users with the best possible experience it’s essential!

But there’s more...

We recently launched two new features of Autocomplete that make it even more compelling!

Country restricts
We understand that many web sites know that all of their users are located in a single country. For example if a U.S. based online retailer ships only to U.S. addresses, there is no need for Autocomplete to offer completions for addresses outside of the U.S. We have therefore launched country filtering, which allows you to constrain the completions to a specific country.
City and region type filters
We also recognise that many applications prompt users to enter a location that is not as fine grained as an exact street address. I you are booking a hotel or browsing for real estate you are often prompted to enter the city or zipcode you are interested in. To address this need we have introduced additional type filters that allow you to limit completions to only cities, or to only coarse grained features such as zipcodes, states, and countries.
To illustrate these new features the following application implements a basic hotel finder that uses Autocomplete to provide city only completions in the specified country, and then uses Place Searches to find nearby hotels:

The simplest way to use Places Autocomplete in your web based applications is to use the places library of the Google Maps API v3. This makes it easy to attach autocomplete behaviour to an existing text field on your web site. However if you are building a native mobile app don’t despair! Autocomplete is also offered as part of the Google Places API web service.

You are free to use Autocomplete in any application, even if you are not displaying a map. All we ask is that you display the ‘powered by Google’ logo under the text field when you use Autocomplete without a map, as illustrated in the address entry example above. Sample logos suitable for use on white or color backgrounds, and for a variety of devices and screens are available here.

Google Places Autocomplete makes it easy for you to add that little bit of magic to your apps that shows your users that you care about their experience and time. What are you waiting for? Hunt down all those address and location fields in your apps now and make them shine with Google Places Autocomplete!

P.S. If you stumble across a site that would clearly also benefit from Autocomplete, why not let them know? You’ll be making the web better for us all, and saving my sanity at the same time...

Map of the Week: University of Washington Campus Map
Why we like it: A beautiful use of interactive custom tiles, custom info windows, and the Google Directions API for embedded walk/bike/drive directions. A great example of a highly customized Google Map.

The beginning of May marks the start of college graduation in many places around the world. When the day comes for long awaited college graduation ceremonies, finding the events on campus can be daunting for visiting family and friends. Just in time for spring graduation ceremonies, comes this great Google Map from the University of Washington. For a large school like the University of Washington that occupies over 500 buildings and over 20 million gross square feet of space, a good map is a must to help visitors and students alike find their way around.

What sets this map apart is the high level of customization, most notably the well designed, custom interactive tiles that highlight university buildings and points of interest. University buildings stand-out from the map in deep purple and display a custom InfoWindow with additional information when you click on them. For sharing convenience, each building has its shortened url.

Overall the map looks great responds quickly as you search around campus. Embedded into the map are walking/biking/driving directions that allows users to route in between buildings and point of interest.

Just in case you won’t be visiting the University of Washington in the near future, here are some other campus maps worth checking out: Northeastern University, UCSD Bus Map, and Universidad de Murcia. Also, the Google Developers Showcase has this and many more campus maps worth checking out.

Map of the Week: MTA Bus Time
Why We Like it: A great use of the Google Maps API by a municipal agency to improve the services they provide to their community. Also, it is beautifully designed and a great use of styled maps.

For many people the most difficult part about riding public transportation is knowing when your ride will arrive. To take the anxiety out of riding the bus, MTA Bus Time provides real time tracking of New York city’s MTA buses on their Google Maps API implementation. Easy search functionality allows users to find bus lines via intersection, bus route, or bus stop code.

It’s easy to see that the NYC MTA spent a lot of time and effort designing this map. Their use of styled maps helps the bus routes stand out better. Additionally, info windows display real time information about the location of the bus and it’s next stop. There are even special bus icons that show which direction the bus is headed. The MTA also produced a great video on YouTube to help riders better understand how this system works. Among the many great features of this system not on the map itself is the ability to access the tool through QR codes posted on bus stops throughout the city.

While real-time bus tracking isn’t available across all routes just yet, NYC MTA is planning to have this available system wide by 2013. If you would like to see other real-time public transportation tracking maps, check out, DC Circulator, and Stadtbahn Tracker.