Map mashups, which can be created for free at Web sites such as Google and Yahoo, have wide potential as a communications tool.
As an example of how map mashups can tell a story, the office of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) created a mashup of his late-April trip to Iraq. It provided a timeline of stopovers, their location on maps, and photos, brief descriptions, and links to YouTube of speeches and other public appearances during the trip.
FortiusOne VP of marketing Jim Ishikawa, whose company has just created a free mashup site that combines multiple types of data, says the merit of mashups lies in the ability to understand at a glance a host of information that would otherwise be just numbers or statistics.
"We've been experimenting with using our capability to enhance news stories," he says. "When campaign funding was a top story a few weeks ago, for instance, our team was able to find data on presidential campaign funding that tells a much more compelling story when you see a visual of what region of the US supports which candidates."
Not only can mashups convey information to audiences, but they can also help identify business or promotional opportunities, notes Robin Griffin, VP of marketing for StrikeIron, a provider of data-integration software and services.
Such opportunities include the ability to create more sophisticated mashups than one can on free sites. Mashups showing where animals in a particular state are adopted from shelters, for example, might indicate neighborhoods worthy of a Good Samaritan award from a pet-food manufacturer.
From the perspective of a PR pro pitching a reporter on a particular story, Livingston Communications founder Geoff Livingston, whose firm represents FortiusOne, says map mashups could also be used as a "coattails" pitch. For a story like the Virginia Tech shootings, for instance, a map showing the "high-risk area" for college crime in the US could form the basis for a story on, say, better use of metal detectors at schools.
Map mashups convey complex data in a much more understandable and engaging format
Several Web sites offer free mashups, including Google and GeoCommons
Mashups provide interactivity in news stories and garner reporters' interest