Logo Rob Buckley – Freelance Journalist and Editor

Create an address locator with Blipstar

Create an address locator with Blipstar

If you've incorporated Google Maps into your site, you can also create tailored maps that will enable visitors to find your offices. Rob Buckley explains

Last issue, we looked at Google Maps and how they can enhance your web sites. Unfortunately, by itself, the Google Maps API can’t do much more than display maps. If you want to let your users search for items on the map, look for directions and so on, Google Maps can’t help you: you need to have some way of finding out the user’s location and then getting Google to come up with directions for you; if you have more than one location on the map, you also have to work out ways of calculating distances between points to find the nearest points. You could create your own web application – a Web 2.0 “mash up” – but that takes time, programming expertise and mapping wizardry.

Fortunately, there’s Blipstar (www.blipstar.com), which makes all of that really, really simple. Blipstar is a free “store locator” that lets people search for stores – or clubhouses, dojos, lakes or whatever you want to put on your map – near to their current location; it then displays the results using Google Maps, and will also create a list of directions from the user’s current location to the stores if they ask. All you have to do is provide Blipstar with a list of all the locations where you have ‘stores’ and it will do the rest.

There are some other great things about Blipstar. As we found last issue, ‘geocoding’ points can be a painful process: Google Maps prefers points defined using latitudes and longitudes, so postcodes, addresses, zip codes and the like need to be converted into latitudes and longitudes before they can be used, a process called geocoding. While Google Maps does have a geocoder built in, it’s slow and doesn’t work with UK postcodes. Blipstar, however, has its own geocoder that works just fine with UK postcodes, saving you a great deal of hassle.

Blipstar can also process store locations in batches, meaning you can create a spreadsheet of all your stores and upload it to add them all to your store database. You can do that as many times as you like and Blipstar will keep track of them all. You can also customise Blipstar’s look and feel to match your own web site’s.

All you’ll need for the tutorial is a web browser, a web editor, a list of addresses you want to map out, and if you want to take advantage of Blipstar’s batch processing functions, Excel or something similar. Happy plotting!

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