Google has just released a new way to have a little useful fun on a cold, rainy Saturday afternoon: Google "My Maps." Google is offering you an online interface to make your own map overlays and generously stores the information online so that you can share them with others.
Now if you first reaction is "So what?"--well you might be right but give it a chance; I think it is more useful than it sounds. An example is in order: Let's suppose that you've got out-of-town friends coming in for Festival International in two weeks (who doesn't?) and you want to throw a nice picnic lunch in Girard Park on Saturday afternoon. They'll be scattered all over downtown Lafayette when the time comes. How do you give them a useful way to find their way to the park. (It's hard for even locals to find a specific place in Girard Park--never mind visitors having to find the park!) Google "my maps" to the rescue. Send the the link to a map showing the relationship of the two venues you've built and let them find their own way. A different click shows where in Girard Park you are supposed to meet—and where to find parking.
Now that's useful, isn't it? And it's easy enough to be practical. Try it out for yourself: Google up "Google Maps" in your browser (how else?). In the left hand box you'll notice a new tab: "My Maps." Click it. In the resulting new box you'll see a "create new box" link. Click it. You will arrive at a new page that has all the tools you'll need. It is pretty self-explanatory but help is available online. Come on, it'll be fun. How about mapping out your favorite downtown bar-hopping route. Or making a good, clean, overlay that shows where all those obscurely numbered soccer fields are at Moore Park. Or locating your family's RV parking spot for the Mardi Gras parades? Its great for any location where you've had a hard time describing how to get there over the cell.
This is all part of the much-heralded "Web 2.0" which doesn't seem to have much of a fixed meaning but which does always seem to have something to do with one set of users providing content that other users need. If you make your new map "public" it can be found during a google search. (Searching on "Moore Park, Lafayette, map, and Soccer fields" might actually turn up something useful.)
It's stuff like this that will be crucial in making the web more useful at the local level--and enourage more folks to see the value of all this "fiber and internet stuff."
Lagniappe: Try pulling up a close-up of the Festival area. Then search parking "Parking Garage." ...Nifty, hunh?