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Maps are a useful, low-cost way to enhance an enterprise Web site, but the divergent means enterprises employ to communicate information through maps are a strong reminder of the do's and don'ts.
Often, the value of maps is to help customers find us as easily in the real world as they found us on the Web. Maps also cut down on calls asking for directions.
The good. Staples.com offers a quick store locator with an excellent map with options such as change scale, re-centre map, find another store and click on list of neighboring stores. Providing a button to display a list of in-store specials is a great touch, and it starts the merchandising process before the potential customer has even left home.
McDonalds.com combines good maps with textual driving directions on a single sheet. McDonalds also offers Maneuver Maps that are a series of small maps focusing in on intersections where the driving instructions require a turn.
For simple, cheap and effective, go to futureshop.ca. Click on Store Locator, click on a province on a simple map of Canada, click on a city name and an easy-to-read map pops up.
Not so good. For a bad example, there's Staples.ca, which only offers lists of stores without a map and no textual driving instructions.
Even worse is the map at jfklibrary.org. Even the enlarged version makes the route and the directions hard to follow.
Map technology. The first step is to use a drawing program such as Corel Draw to create a graphic that looks like a map. For simple maps that don't need zoom or pan, this approach is cheap and fast.
A good second step is to consider licensing Microsoft MapPoint or MapQuest software and services to add mapping functionality to your Web site. This approach works well if your mapping requirements are based only on addresses.
If the maps we want to display at our Web site integrate public and proprietary data, we can develop more sophisticated maps using a rich set of software products. The major products for implementing maps on Web sites are AutoDesk MapGuide, ESRI IMS, Intergraph WebMap and MapInfo Discovery.
Each supplier listed above and Telus Geomatics offer a number of demos that can spur creative thinking about how to approach adding maps to a site.
Maps can be a useful enhancement to almost every Web site. If your Web site doesn't offer maps, the price to shape up is not high. If you're interested in a list of links associated with the observations about maps, please send me an e-mail.