How to visualise your data on a map using MapAList

Maps are a great way to visualise data with a geographical dimension to it.  They are a highly efficient way for non-technical people to make sense of lots of data and often give interesting insights into your data.

This post looks at how to visualise your data on a map.  It assumes no special knowledge and it intended for complete beginners.  It starts with data in a spreadsheet and explains how to use that to create a map that you can embed on your website or copy and paste into a report.  

There are many, many different tools to help you do this.  In this post I'll look specificically at MapAList, which is one of the simplest to use.  MapAList is a free, simple, codeless wizard for creating and maintaining customized maps.

In addition to being very easy to use, MapAList also ensures that your map updates as your data updates.  This is particularly important if you are publishing your map on your website and want to the data to stay current.

Getting your data ready

Before going over to you need to spend some time getting your data ready.  MapAList uses a Google Spreadsheet as it's data source.  This means that you first need to create a Google Spreadsheet and populate it with your data.

When you import your data (see next step), MapAList will prompt you to identify which fields are geo-coded.  As you can see from the screenshot below, it can work with the following types of geographical information:

  • Street address
  • City
  • State
  • ZIP (or postal code)
  • Country
  • Latitude and Longitude
Geo-coding your data

Geo-coding your data

MapAList will use geocoding services provided by MapQuest, Google and Yahoo to attempt to match the data you supply to geographical coordinates.  If you provide your own lattitude and longitude then these will over-ride other values supplied.

When you get your data in Google Spreadsheets, consider which of these values you have.  Create a separate column for each type of geographical information so that MapAList can find it easily.  If you need to clean up your data first then take a look at this post on Open Refine for help with this.

Importing your data

Once you've got your data ready, importing it into MapAList is easy.  You first need to do a one-off process to authorise MapAList to access your Google Drive.  Once you provide this you can select the spreadsheet and then the worksheet that you want to use as the data source.  See below for an example of the tool to do this. 

Importing data from Google Drive

Importing data from Google Drive

You'll see a preview of your data at the bottom.  If it looks OK then click 'next' to proceed.  You'll then see the screenshot above, where you select from your data which columns contain geo-coded information.

Geo-coding your data

Ignore this step if you already have coordinates for your data.  This step relates to MapAList's attempt to use web services to match address data with their coordinates using databases provided by MapQuest, Yahoo and Google.

The screenshot below shows a summary of any problems encountered when geocoding your data.  You can choose to try and fix these problems or continue without addressing these issues.

Tweaking your map

MapAList deliberately hides a lot of the complexity that other tools offer.  The simple configuration options are:

  • All addresses (using the sam pin)
  • All addresses (using unique pin images)
  • Heat map
  • Cluster map
  • Group by distinct column values

There is also an advanced configuration option that gives you more control as to which fields in your data are used to display what on the map. 

Geo-coding your data

Geo-coding your data

Embedding your map

Once you've published your map you'll see a page like this one below.  You have three options for using the map:

  • Embed it on your website (see below for where to click to get the embed script)
  • Save a KMZ file to use in another application (click the save icon)
  • Print it
Embedding your data on a website

Embedding your data on a website

If you embed your map then the data will continue to update as the data in your Google spreadsheet changes.  This is a great way to show a living view of your data on your website.


Have you used other tools that you think are better?  Let us know in the comments section.