Currently, Wiki Spot wikis use the Google Maps service to plot and display their map points. While Google Maps provides a popular and extremely useful service, we think there are some long-term flaws with depending on Google Maps.
Problems with Google Maps
Most of the problems with google maps are not inheritantly technical. Google Maps is widely-used but is not "free" in the open-source / free software sense.
Images displayed on google maps are not, in general, freely usable
Many images are under restrictive copyrights and cannot be reused — beyond standard "Fair Use" — without paying money. Even when a city's data is public domain, it is not noted in the mapping interface. This makes it annoying to use screenshots of maps on wikis and elsewhere without potentially getting into legal or monetary nastiness.
The google maps service is not free/open-source software
The software that powers google maps is proprietary and not freely licensed or usable by other people. Using google maps does not support the development of free mapping software. We cannot extend and further the development of the mapping service ourselves, or provide interfaces to maps that aren't already provided by google.
Google has a profit motive
Google is a for-profit corporation, and as such they offer services and expect to make money off of them, in general. Google Maps is currently, as of 2007, ad-free, but this could change sometime in the future (Note: 2008-10 Google began placing advertisements on its main mapping service. Ads on embedded maps probably aren't a long way off. It's imperative we replace google maps!) Using Google maps also promotes Google as a corporation, and could potentially be seen as an endorsement of other google products.
Google maps markers
Google maps uses annoying balloon markers that block the above image. This is okay with a few markers, but on a dense college campus, the markers obscure the entire map. Look at Case Western Wiki's map as an example. Yes, there are ways to mitigate the problem, such as using boxes to mark buildings or smaller markers, but it is still annoying.
These may be removable by either gutting the createMarker function in the gmap.js file or by having it return true (instead of marker results). CreateMarker does seem to be the cause of the ballon-storm that appears around results, digging into the Google Maps API should yield a fix if what's above doesn't work. Or, maybe replacing the default marker with very small markers?
The smaller markers look great!
A map with the outlines of buildings is clearer and thus easier to follow that a map using satellite imagery. Overlaying a map onto google maps doesn't look very clean when dragged around.
Google Plans to Charge Maps Developers in 2012
According to this October 27, 2011 report http://www.webmonkey.com/2011/10/google-plans-to-charge-maps-developers
Google intends to charge $4.00 / 1,000 map loads.
Potential solutions, in the long-term
Ideally, we'd love for there to be a free/open-source mapping solution that would allow us to provide maps that are easily customizable and usable by a wide range of communities. This would hopefully entail a mapping environment that would have a bunch of pre-loaded data for most of the United States and the rest of the world.
Free Map Server
FreeMap.in has free maps for a variety of cities. Open Guide Boston uses this map system. They have maps for Boston and a few other cities. Not sure how much work it would be to create free maps for other cities.
Other significant publicly held layers covering California will be added later.
Note: this is a free open source solution(FOSS).
Open Street Map
Looks really promising: http://www.openstreetmap.org/
Here in Toronto, http://myttc.ca/colophon confirms that they're using openstreetmap.org data to calculate walking distances. MyTTC.ca still is using GoogleMaps. However, the open street map (OSM) data itself has improved significantly at least for my city, Toronto, good enough that I am now asking if alongside the google map button on wikispot pages, we could have a second map buttom which would show OSM maps?
Interested in helping?
If you're interested in helping develop something new and awesome, leave a comment for Alex Mandel, who's currently thinking and playing with things.
Currently map markers are "tagged" (meaning the pop up text linked to the marker) with the page the map macro is placed on. This works well for pages dedicated to a business, but for a page with a list of business, there is no way to distinguish between businesses on the map. Is it possible to tag a map marker with something other than the wiki page name.
Right now, no (it's possible with changes to the system, of course).