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Create a Map from a List of Places using Google Docs and Mapalist.com

This morning, I was looking to create a map of campaign contributions in Maine using data taken from the Maine campaign finance website. From that website I’d found that Stand for Marriage Maine, the primary group organizing to outlaw same-sex marriage in the state, had received only 257 contributions from just 250 individuals who live in the state of Maine. Where were these people living? I could look at 250 place names, but hoo boy, that much information does not match the human capacity to process information. To get a real sense of pattern, I thought it would be nifty to convert all that information into just 1 picture: a map.

To do that, I used Google Docs (at docs.google.com) and MapAList (at mapalist.com). Both services are free with registration. Here’s what I did:

1. Register for an account at Google Docs and at MapAList.
2. Log in to each account using a separate tab of my browser.
3. Click the “Create New” tab in Google Docs and select “Spreadsheet”
4. Paste in the place name data I had already collected from the Maine Campaign Finance website:

Image of Google Docs spreadsheet containing information about the location of individual people in Maine donating to Stand for Marriage Maine

5. Save the Google Spreadsheet into my Google Docs account.
6. Click the “Create Map!” button on the main MapAList.com web page.
7. Under the menu “Choose Map Source,” select “Google Spreadsheet”
8. Follow menu options that give MapAList.com permission to access my Google spreadsheets, then select the name of the spreadsheet I’d just created.
9. At this point, as you can see below, MapAList figured out automatically what sort of information I had, and asked me to verify that its guess was right (it was):

Menu of Step 1 for MapAList

10. Follow instructions by click a few “Next” buttons while MapAList processes the map data, then…
11. Marvel at my new map of in-state Stand for Marriage Maine contributors!

Map showing individual contributors from the State of Maine to Stand for Marriage Maine, as of September 30, 2009

If you want, you can save your map as a KML file and do whatever you want to and are able to do with it: upload it to Google Earth, share it as a Google Map, and so on, and so forth.

In case you’re worried about privacy concerns, here’s the relevant piece of the MapAList terms of service:

Privacy – Collection and distribution of personal info
We will not collect any personal information from you that you do not volunteer, and we are the sole owner of all information collected on this site. We do not sell, share, or rent this information to others in any way that we have not mentioned in this statement.

That’s pretty reassuring.

In short, when combined Google Docs and MapAList make a pretty handy visualization tool. They get my hearty recommendation.

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