With Fusion Tables, Google acts as the cloud service provider, supplying a pre-configured system and software environment (SaaS), accessible by the client via a Web browser. The underlying hardware and operating system components are completely hidden from the client, and the software environment is restricted to an extent that only a small set of configuration options are available to the client to manage. Aside from the standard Google base map, no data is pre-loaded, however. The software interface is designed to facilitate the process of uploading, organizing and formatting data in a manner that satisfies the clients' goals. Clients are responsible for providing the data, which can then be analyzed, visualized and shared with other clients.
The following lesson instructions lead you through an overview of the Google Tables interface. Fundamentally, data in Fusion Tables is in a tabular form, rather than a GIS data format. You will first explore an existing tabular dataset that has already been created by a client and then experiment with the different visualization options that include a map. As you will see, any field that contains spatially referenced information (lat/lon coordinates, street address, place name, etc.) can be used to plot features on a map.
- Fusion Tables are now integrated into Google Drive, so we'll start by visiting the Google Drive informational page. Spend some time on this page reading about how Google Drive is a cloud-based service for storing different kinds of documents and files. You may be very familiar with Google Drive through using Google Docs, but as you read this, pay particular attention to how cloud technology is involved.
- Learn more about Fusion Tables on the Fusion Tables support page. If you are considering using Fusion Tables for a term project, or outside this course, you should explore this page.
- Log in to drive.google.com using your Google Account. If you don't already have a Google Account, you will need to create one (it is free).
Explore the layout of the page. Notice along the left of the window are links labeled "My drive", "Shared with me", etc. Using these links you can view only tables you have created and other tables that have been designated as visible by everyone or only certain users. When you create a new table, you can explicitly specify its level of access.
The bulk of the window shows items in your Google Drive, including the tables that you are permitted to see. If this is the first time that you have used Google Drive, this area will be blank.
- For this exercise, I have created a public table. Open this table in a new browser window.
- Since you are not an owner of this table, you should not be able to edit the data; you have viewing privileges only. Remember that Google Fusion Tables fundamentally operates on tabular data, which can be manipulated similar to the way you can with traditional desktop applications, like Microsoft Excel. Clicking on a column heading sorts the table by the corresponding values, very similar to a desktop spreadsheet program.
Also note that this table is in "Classic look". Don't click "Switch to new look" right now. Google's new look for Fusion Tables does not have all the mapping options we'll be using. In the exercises in this course we will stick with the classic look. If you ever find yourself in the new look and you are getting lost in the course instructions, click Help > Back to Classic look.
- Since this data table is stored in the cloud, it possesses some capabilities that are more dynamic than local resources and takes advantage of the fact that other users can access the same information. Let's take a look at some of these features.
Notice the small blue corner-fill at the far right of the Purdue row. That indicates that there is a comment associated with the row. Click on it, or the call-out icon, to view the comment. There is also a blue corner-fill next to Penn State's Enrollment value, which indicates that there is a comment associated with that value specifically. Click it to view the comment. You can add comments to data elements by clicking the call-out icon next to the item above which your mouse is hovering. In this manner, multiple users can annotate the data table, but in this case not alter the actual data values.
Finally, notice the globe icon that appears when you hover over the Location column. That indicates that the data elements in the column have been geocoded by Google, using its other cloud-based resources. Clicking the globe icon displays each point's location on a Google Maps basemap. Zooming in on the map may show that the location marker is not located within the boundary of a particular school's campus. This is because Google is using only the text in the Location column to perform the geocoding, placing the marker at the city center and not the campus center. Think how you might alter the text in the Location column to get a more accurate position for the location marker.
- So far we have explored the capability of Fusion Tables to store and present data in tabular form. However, there are several other visualization options that Fusion Tables generates automatically based on data in the table.
Click on the Visualize menu and click through the following options (The Intensity Map option will not function properly with the Big Ten table, since the locations need to be specified using Latitude/Longitude coordinates, rather than the city names provided.):
- Now click on the Visualize tab and select the Map option. Each of the Big Ten schools should be shown at their corresponding city locations, as geocoded by Google. The marker symbols are derived from the Symbol column in the table, where the symbol for each record is explicitly specified. Clicking on a marker symbol displays attribute information about the school, as defined in the table. Other options on this screen include:
- Export to KML - to generate a stand-alone KML file for use with Google Earth
- Get KML network link - to generate a URL for Google Earth, which provides a dynamic connection to the Fusion Table, so any future updates will be viewable via Google Earth.
- Get embeddable link - to generate a URL, which can be pasted into an HTML file to embed an interactive Google Maps view of your data in an external Website.
This lesson provided you with a general overview of the Fusion Tables interface and its basic functionality, including viewing tabular data and visualizing it on a map. Next, we will walk through the process of creating and publishing an original table, of which you are the owner.