The Fusion Table data on mobile devices

We’ve talked a bit about Google’s Fusion Tables product before — a great way to turn a table full of data (such as an Excel spreadsheet) into a fully functional map!

The maps can easily be shared through a Google Maps interface or even in Google Earth, but the mobile support for Fusion Table projects has been pretty weak. That’s where the folks from Build-A-Map have stepped in, with a new product called My Fusion Tables.


My Fusion Tables a mobile application that allows you to browse, view, and map data from Google Fusion Tables on both mobile phones and tablets. You can find it in the iOS App Store or on Google Play.

How to make maps with Fusion Tables

Inspired by the Guardian Data Blog I decided to explore Fusion Tables and Google Maps with Australian data. To start with, I selected a set of Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas, created from 2006 Census data, and postal area boundaries from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).Today I would like to share a few observations regarding creating maps with data from Fusion Tables.

Although Fusion Tables is not yet a fully featured thematic mapping, analysis and publishing application however, with a little bit of effort, anyone can create informative maps which are visually attractive and fast to deploy. The best thing about Fusion Tables is that you don’t need to manage any complex infrastructure yourself and that the application is free (however, with some limitations on data storage volumes, currently capped at 250MB per account).

Spatial Data

Since Fusion Tables support spatial data only in KML format you have to convert your dataset before uploading it to the server, or alternatively, find a publicly available table that has already been uploaded by someone else.

Google provides a tool to translate SHP data into KML format and to import directly into Fusion Tables but it didn’t work for me with complex data. There are some free alternatives available (really easy to use one is QGIS, for example) but loading other than KML data into Fusion Tables will always be a multi step process.

If you decide to upload your own data, please note a couple of annoying limitations of Fusion Tables. Firstly, complex polygon structures are not supported (for example, I could not upload postcode number 0822 in Northern Territory at full resolution, yet it works perfectly with Google Maps). Secondly, some larger polygons and/or with many parts get generalised automatically as you load them to Fusion Tables as, for example, postal area 7255 in Tasmania (compare the results below – the same KML file as imported to Fusion Tables, on the left, and as displayed directly on Google Map – note green outlines on all, even the smallest islands):

Table search functionality in Fusion Tables is rather crude so, it may not be an easy task to locate what you are looking for. Not to mention that the concept of metadata is non-existent in Fusion Tables so, it is hard to know if the data you find is appropriate for your purposes.

Numeric data

Upload of tabular numeric information in csv format is very straightforward but if you disallow “Export” option up front, you will not be able to edit the data in Fusion Tables. My suggestion is to import the data as “Private” (default option) and allow for “Export”, then add new columns with formulas (if required), and disallow export only when you are ready to publish the data (if at all).

Table Operations

You can easily create a map based on data from numeric tables if those tables contain a “spatial reference” column, for example, postcode numbers (provided you can find equivalent spatial data set in Fusion Tables). To combine numeric and spatial data tables you have to use “Merge” function. My suggestion is to use “smaller table” as a starting point. For example, to create thematic map with postcodes for Sydney area only, select relevant numeric table first and then merge with a table containing postal areas for the entire NSW. Only relevant boundaries will be included in the merged table (ie. the subset of NSW postcodes). If you do the operation in the reverse order, the merged table will contain all postcodes for NSW but only a handful will have the data that can be used in creating a thematic map.

When you “Create View” (ie. copy the table – your own or from other users to your account) or “Merge” tables with spatial geometry column you will lose map formatting parameters (eg. colour setting for polygon fills, etc.). This is very unfortunate, especially when you need to retain colour schema from the original table.

Styling Map

Handling “No data” fields is not easy in Fusion Tables. The problem is that polygons with “no value” in the table default to red fill when rendered on the map (as in the example below – there was no data for 2006 postcode in the merged numeric table). A workaround is to include some value in the table for the missing record (eg. traditional -9999) if you can. Then you can specify map settings to colour only that value, for example, as white and/or fully transparent.

Fully transparent overlays (eg. if fill is set to 0% transparency) are not clickable – it is a very handy feature for handling polygons with missing data in the numeric table (ie. no information window will be displayed when the polygon is clicked). However, when your objective is to present on the map only outlines of the polygons but you still want to display information about those polygons on click of the map, you have to change transparency parameter to a value greater than 0.


If you are eager to start playing with Fusion Tables, Google produced easy to follow tutorial on how to create thematic maps (note, if you are working with your own data, choose “Map” option and not “Intensity Map” in the relevant step).

Google I/O 2011 – The Geo Developers

Google I/O was about the maturation of many of the Geo APIs, this year’s was more about their sophistication, both in the designs discussed and the applications on display. Like the sun standing still at the solstice, let’s take a moment to reflect on recent events and look ahead to the coming season.

Several new features made their debut at I/O this year. The much-anticipated Places API took the stage, as did its companion the Places Autocomplete API. Dynamic Styling was introduced for Fusion Tables layers in the Maps API, allowing layer styling to be defined by the API application via Javascript. Finally, some extremely helpful open source Javascript libraries were introduced to make Maps API development even easier.

Joining us on stage were several developers who came to share their expertise. Justin O’Beirne of 41Latitude talked about map usability and design in the “Designing Maps Applications for Usability” session. The Guardian UK’s Simon Rogers joined us to talk about how the Guardian is using Fusion Tables to visualize the data they collect in “Managing and Visualizing Your Location Based Data.” Yoni Samlan from SCVNGR also came to discuss developing with the Places API in “Location-based App Development.”

In addition to the sessions led by the Geo team, the developer sandbox featured eight Geo API partners who engaged directly with I/O attendees. Joining us in the sandbox were HistoryPin, Icon Fitness, Ubisense, The Wall Street Journal, Footprint Feed, The Bay Citizen, Arc2Earth, and Travel Game. The apps on display ranged from location-based gaming using the Latitude API to tools for citizen journalists to map public data using Fusion Tables. You can learn more about two of our sandbox partners in these video case studies:

  • The Bay Citizen (video) – The Bay Citizen explains the benefits of the Fusion Tables layer with Google Maps API to build infographics for their online newspaper. The Bike Accident Tracker visualizes the prevalence of bike accidents across San Francisco.
  • Historypin (video) – HistoryPin lets users upload historical photos, geotag them on a Google Maps, and overlay the old imagery on top of new Street View imagery, enabling users to see what their cities looked like at different points in time.

Geo APIs Summer Learning Series (apologies to the Southern Hemisphere)

But at the heart of Google I/O are the sessions themselves. This year, speakers from the Maps, Earth, and Fusion Tables teams covered a wide range of topics, from ensuring high performance and usability across all browsers to visualizing huge data sets with Fusion Tables. The amount of material covered was enormous…but we want to expand upon it.

To that end, we’re pleased to announce the “Geo APIs Summer Learning Series” on the Geo Developers Blog. Over the coming weeks, each talk will be getting its own blog post from the session speaker, pulling in what was discussed at I/O and then digging deeper into the technical content. Here is how the series will unfold:

Week of July 6th
Connecting People and Places
Location Based App Development using Google APIs
Secrets and Surprises of the Google Geo APIs

Week of July 11th
Managing and visualizing your location based data with Fusion Tables
Designing Maps Applications for Usability on Mobile and Desktop

Week of July 18th
High Performance KML for Maps and Earth
Speedy Maps

Week of July 25th
Map your business, inside and out
GIS with Google Earth and Google Maps

If you’d like a head start, videos of all the I/O sessions are linked above. Be sure to visit the Geo Developers Blog throughout July for even more great content from the Maps, Earth, and Fusion Tables teams.