Although Google maps and other online mapping tools become more powerful, creating and analyzing maps is still typically done using a desktop GIS. I am for example using GRASS GIS and QGIS for my work. These are very powerful tools, but what if I want to get a more detailed overview of how a certain area looks like? Or if I want to find out the towns in a certain region, or verify the existence of a lake in another?
I can try to find the relevant data online, convert and import them into my GIS database for subsequent viewing and analysis. But that can be quit a task, certainly if all I want is to get a feeling of how an area looks like. That is were I would rather use Google maps or Google earth.
One thing is that it is not always easy to find the exact location without getting the coordinates first. That is where ClickFu comes in. ClickFu is add-on for QGIS with a collection of actions that link to various web geo-services. When clicking somewhere on the map in QGIS, it extracts the coordinates of that location and opens one of 6 available geo-services. Let me illustrate this with an example.
I am currently working on the development of vegetation maps and the analysis of vegetation distribution patterns in eastern Africa. Figure 1 below shows for example the vegetation map for central and southwest Kenya. Now I want to check out the red encircled area in Figure 1.
To do this I open the menu ClickFu and select one of the available geo-services (Figure 2). Next, on the map I click on the location I am interested in.
This will open your default web-browser (I am using Firefox, but any modern web-browser will do), with the geo-service you selected. The following figures show examples for the selected site, which is Nairobi National Park and surroundings.
Figure 3 shows Nairobi National Park and surroundings in OpenStreetMap. This map is good to find locations, addresses, boundaries, etc. The greatest feature of OpenStreetMap is that the data is free, i.e., you can freely download, use and edit it.
Flickr (Figure 4), which uses Yahoo maps, and Google maps (Figure 5) both offer a view with satellite images, maps or a mix of the two. Both also show geotagged pictures for the shown region. Flickr does this by default, in Google maps you need to select the option. For me Flickr clearly wins in the photography department; you can find really beautiful pictures. However, I normally use Google maps as for most areas it offers higher resolution satellite images and more detailed maps.
There are a number of alternative online geo-services listed on the GeoHack website (Figure 7). It offers links to visit your location in e.g., Bing maps or any of the other geo-services.
Enjoy exploring your maps in a different way!