Map as displayed in post with visitor option adding overlays and alternate base maps.

Associating a Blog Post Location with a Map

Integrated Productivity Tools (IPT) is building a WordPress plugin that will allow authors to configure and add a map without ever leaving the post editor. Users can provide a location by manually entering latitude and longitude, geocoding an address or clicking directly on the map. All this information will be saved as part of post metadata and allow a map showing all or a filtered selection of locations to be displayed. Map Posts will be available in free (open source, shareable, unrestricted) and commercial versions. IPT is seeking feedback from the WordPress users to ensure we deliver a product of genuine value to the community.

From Service to a WordPress Plugin

My original concept was to offer a standard service to website owners to add mapping capability to their site. There were two problems with this approach:

  • Firstly, because of the diversity of technologies and customized options that exist for hosting websites, it would be impossible to create a generic off-the-shelf solution that would work for everyone.
  • The second problem was – I’m not a website developer per se and have a limited knowledge of running, configuring or customizing a web server. I know mapping and spatial analysis, and this extends to some extent to web based mapping. But I’m not in a position to create a web application from scratch – at least not without a very steep learning curve, or partnering with someone who already has advanced skills in that domain.

What I do have experience with is programming on an existing platform that has an API. For those not familiar with developer-speak, API stands for Application Programming Interface. Its a way to add more functionality to an existing program or modify its default behaviour. IntegratedProductivityTools.com itself is mounted on WordPress, software that was originally developed solely for blogging but since has become widely used for running websites of all types. Because I maintain the site myself I have become familiar with installing plugins as a way to quickly add more functionality. These plugins work by taking advantage of API’s and allow third-party developers to seamlessly add features beyond what is available from the basic WordPress installation. I realized that if the product scope were reduced to only WordPress powered sites, an off-the-shelf solution became feasible.

One-click Map Posts

Map plugins already exist for WordPress, so I had to find a pain point that wasn’t being addressed. I compared existing solutions, trolled WordPress forums and when presented with the opportunity spoke with anyone who worked with WordPress. My first hypothesis suggested that what was missing was:

  • The ability to associate a post with a location (as metadata), and show it on a map.
  • Filter what is shown on the map (by tag, category or some other attribute). A variation on this is a search feature (enter a search term and a map loads with all locations that meet the criteria).
  • Do this all easily (automatically if possible), without ever leaving the post editor.

Based on this I started working on a solution with the following design criteria:

  1. There would be no separate plugin configuration screen. Once installed, the mapping tool would be fully usable from the post editor and an author could immediately start inserting maps.
  2. Ideally the only thing a user would need to do is position the cursor where the map needs to be inserted and click a button (one-click map insertion).

Essentially what I wanted was something like the Add Media button, except instead of inserting photos or video an interactive map is inserted. In practice I could not quite meet these conditions, since a location had to be provided first and therefore a two-step workflow was mandated where:

  1. The user supplies a location in the form of an address; latitude and longitude co-ordinates; or by clicking on a preview map.
  2. Once satisfied that the location is correct the configuration is saved and a map can be inserted through the button described above.

Thus I ended up with a 2-piece interface; a button that will actually insert the map, and a form-like panel for entering the post location and some other optional configuration.

Insert Post Map by clicking button.
Insert map by clicking button.

 

Configuring and previewing map in editor.
Configure map parameters and define location.

Post Map

The example above is what I call a Post Map. It shows a single location as a marker on top of a normal street map, and has pan and zoom functionality. Location defaults to an arbitrary 25.0 degrees north, -100.0 degrees west. At the time of writing, a user updates the location by manually entering new co-ordinates or geocoding an address; however future options will include clicking directly on the map to set location and possible obtaining location automatically from a GPS enabled device. Additional optional configuration includes setting width (as a percentage of space available), height (in pixels) and initial zoom (as a value between 0 (entire Earth) and 18 (highest resolution)).

Note that with the Map Posts plugin activated, every post acquires a location, defaulting to the co-ordinates described above. Actually adding a map to the post is at the discretion of the author. Typically you would add a Post Map if your topic can be associated with a geographic location and there is value to the reader in providing a map. Writing about an industry event or reviewing a restaurant are natural candidates for including a map.

All Posts Map

An All Posts Map is similar in appearance to a Post Map, but shows the location of all posts (or a filtered subset). When you create an All Posts Map, you do not define or update any locations; these are automatically retrieved from the database and are based on each post’s saved metadata. At the time of writing the full specifications for All Posts Map are still fluid. At a minimum it will display all post locations on the same map, and will be inserted on the page via a button similar to that for a Post Map. Release of the early beta versions and Map Posts Free are intended to solicit feedback from the WordPress community to identify what can add the most value to the user experience. From these recommendations the full feature set can be derived.

Map Posts Free and a Paid Version

Map Posts will be offered in two versions; a free edition with an unrestricted open source license, hosted on the WordPress.org plugins site (which must pass that organization’s review and approval process); and a commercial version with expanded  capability. Integrated Productivity Tools will release some beta versions of the software in the near future and will invite users to comment, identify bugs and make recommendations on what they would like to see in the free or commercial editions. An approximate release sequence is itemized below:

VersionExpected ReleaseFeaturesNotes and Release Objectives
Map Posts Free beta v1March 05, 2018Insert Post Map

Define location through manual co-ordinate entry

Define location via address geocode
Only minimal testing

Does not validate user inputs or handle most error conditions

Suitable for a test environment only - not recommended for a real-world website (production environment)

Intended to get feedback from target users
Map Posts Free beta v2March 19, 2018Insert Post Map

Insert All Posts Map

Define location through manual co-ordinate entry

Define location through address geocode

Define location through click on map

(Possibly) filter All Posts Map by post metadata (tag, category, author, date published)

(Probably) select different map styles

(Probably) support custom post types
Release candidate (should look almost identical to official release)

Identify bugs

Confirm user requested features implemented as recommended
Map Posts Free v 1.0TBDAs above plus:

(Possibly) filter All Posts Map by post metadata (tag, category, author, date published)

(Possibly) fine-tune marker location by dragging

(Possibly) click on map to identify closest post location
First full release

Feedback on what commercial version needs
Map Posts Pro v 1.0TBDMostly you tell me. At minimum all the above plus:

(Possibly) change default map configuration

(Possibly) save filtered versions of All Posts Map

(Possibly) allow site visitors to apply own filters to All Posts Map
First commercial edition release

Plugin Feedback to Date

Most of the feedback I’ve gotten to date are from conversations with WordPress users at networking events (or bloggers, freelancers or business owners who work online but not necessarily with WordPress). Only recently have I gotten to the point where I have something that could be demoed. The take home lessons I have encountered so far are:

  • Ease of use is paramount (work on the telepathic interface has begun !).
  • Most potential users care more about showing multiple locations at once rather then individual post locations. This suggests that the important map type will be the All Posts Map.
  • Many focused on features not for the blog author but for the site visitor – such as clicking on a location on the map and showing the closest locations of interest.
  • People are less interested in navigation than context. They want to see what the rest of the world looks like from a particular spot on the ground.

I’m inviting all readers for feedback – comment on this post or email IPT at info@integratedproductivitytools.com. WordPress bloggers and site developers are particularly welcome.

 

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