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ICA-Atom, now with GoogleMaps mashup!

July 5th, 2007 · 2 Comments · ICA-AtoM, Web 2.0

I recently added Place and Map objects to the ICA-AtoM core data model to allow users to dynamically create GoogleMap mash-ups. A simple demonstration of this new feature is available at SappertonHistory.ca.

One of the main objectives is to link archival materials related to specific buildings (e.g. deeds, property tax rolls, city directories) to markers on a dynamic map, such as GoogleMaps. This provides a whole new access method (i.e. map-based browsing) that is lots of fun and very direct. This feature will now be provided out-of-the-box with the first public release of the open-source ICA-AtoM code (scheduled for early 2008).

The Inspiration

I had been meaning to do this for a while but felt inspired yet again when I took a look at Yvette Hoitink’s Sint Anna ter Muiden website. This site uses MediaWiki software and a GoogleMap mashup to build an online history of the medieval Dutch town of Sint Anna ter Muiden. Yvette’s day job is project manager for the Dutch National Archives’ Virtual Reading Room project. I met her in The Hague a few months ago to discuss their innovative project. I crossed paths with her again, and found out about her Sint Anna ter Muiden website, at the Archief2.0 online community where Dutch Archivists are discussing web 2.0 technology.

I had originally planned to just copy Yvette’s MediaWiki setup to test GoogleMaps mashup features but decided I might as well go the extra mile and maximize the time spent by integrating this functionality directly into the ICA-AtoM application. I did most of the work on the plane ride to and from the Association of Canadian Archivists conference in Kingston, Ontario a couple of weeks ago, as well as during conference sessions. Oddly enough I found it easier to listen to speakers while working on something very structured on my laptop. I think my mind wanders too easily if I am forced to focus on just one thing for too long. Two things in parallel seems to keep me focussed on both, which is why I have to listen to music while I work. But I digress, more about the maps…

How Does it Work?

As discussed in my previous post, ICA-AtoM is built using the Symfony PHP5 platform. I integrated the open-source PHP GoogleMapAPI component which was fairly easy to do, given Symfony’s auto-loading and templating features. I only had to hack it in one place to replace its native geocode caching features with an interface to my application’s Propel object model component. This feature will take a street address and send it to the Google or Yahoo! geocode lookup service to match it with the appropriate latitude and longitude. Those are then used to place a marker on the map. The geocodes are then saved in an application cache so that it doesn’t have to perform a lookup each time the map is loaded.

I redirected the geocode cache to a Place object which I added to the ICA-AtoM data model. In a previous analysis I had recognized Place as a core entity in a generic information cataloging system that, like Event, is significant enough to be managed as a separate entity, rather than just another term type in a subject thesauri.

This Place object will allow users to manage metadata about geographical places and link them in contextual hierarchies that provide for multi-level inheritance much like multi-level archival description (e.g. Sapperton (neighbourhood) -> New Westminster (city) -> Lower Mainland (region) -> British Columbia (province) -> Canada (country)). These Places can be linked to other core objects in the ICA-AtoM application (e.g. Archival Materials, Authority Files, Repositories, Terms) to provide rich relationship contexts as well as standard place name access points for text-based searching and browsing.

Of course, the new and interesting feature is then to link those Place objects to thematic maps. In the case of an Authority File you can create a Map object for all the place names found in a person’s biographical sketch. You can create online walking tours or, in the SappertonHistory.ca example that I’ve posted, a historical site register. It really is up to the user because I’ve added a Map object to the ICA-AtoM application that allows an administrator to create any number of custom maps to link to Place objects. These links appear as map marker icons on the map and provide a hyperlink to the Place object metadata profile. The map marker icons can be supplemented with thumbnail pictures and additional descriptions.

Map Mash-ups are so 2006

Of course, GoogleMaps mash-ups are nothing new and this is not really very ground-breaking, but I am excited to finally get a chance to test out a pretty fundamental Web 2.0 feature in one of my own projects. Zooming in to a recent satellite photo of a location that I pass by often, while superimposing a historical photo of that same location over the map, creates a really immediate effect. For example, look how the driveway of the Woodlands Hospital photograph, taken early in the last century, matches to the driveway on the very current satellite photo. You can almost imagine yourself standing there a hundred years ago.

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bruce Smith // Jul 5, 2007 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for the details, and the hack tip? I must admit that I haven’t tried anything like it yet, but when I do I will hopefully remember to check back in here for some help. The online satellite map with the historical image is indeed immediately gratifying.

  • 2 informationatrix // Jul 23, 2007 at 5:12 am

    Thank you for all the explanatory detail; as an aspiring archivist and technology dilletante, I need all of the help I can get to understand the logistics of creating this type of project.

    I’ve always wondered how to best accomplish this type of mash-up, and your clearly-worded description has definitely helped me to move this past concept and into thinking about how to realistically implement this type of project. My first thought was that I can see this idea being especially helpful for an online historical “walking tour,”…which became especially clear to me after seeing the superimposed historical image on the online satellite map.

    So very exciting! I look forward to reading future developments with this feature.