Monday, July 2, 2012

Fusion Table Dead End

I had been planning on posting another fun map created using Google Fusion Tables, but with another week of experimenting under my belt, I've come across too many issues and will instead use this post to complain :)

I like Fusion Tables because of the visualization options, the map feature in particular.   It works very well with your own set of data provided you have a clean set of geographic features to work with.  However, if you're scouring the web for data from something like the World Bank or CIA Factbook, chances are you'll end up with a set of data with no geography tied to it, only a name.   The Fusion Tables tutorial video shows a perfect way to visualize this data by searching publicly shared tables and merging it with an existing set of country borders.  Using the merge function you can link two tables together, much like using a key field in access.

If you have a few minutes, check out the video.

So let's say we have data on the number of cows per square mile by country.  If we were to merge it to an existing table of "world countries" that has geographic bounds we would not find the same success as the tutorial video above because not all of the country names would match.  The "United Republic of Tanzania" and Tanzania will not match.  USA and United States will not match...etc.

This makes sense, but what doesn't is that you cannot edit the fields of a merged table.  The only way to fix this is to edit the names of the countries in your original file and then re-merge with a shared table.  Even this isn't a big deal by itself, but you aren't able to save the shared files to your own fusion tables set.  This makes it so that you must re-search for the table online. This is all complicated by the fact that everything is stored online, slowing everything down.

Fusion Tables is closely tied to Google Drive, in fact, there is no stand alone Fusion Tables page. Instead, when you go to the Fusion Tables "home page" you are actually in Google Drive, Google's free cloud service.

But by far the biggest problem with fusion tables is that from within a table you can not get back to your Google Drive page, or a page with a list of your fusion tables.  ALl of the other issues could be solved if there was simply a "back to my tables" button.  Instead, I quickly end up with 15 tabs open in my web browser and lose all organization.

Here is a screen shot of how you will run in to a no-way-out dead end when you open a fusion table.

If you use fusion tables I'm interested to hear your thoughts.  Yea or nay?

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