Part 1 - Concept and Prototype

"You've got your chocolate in my peanut butter! You've got your peanut butter on my chocolate!" - Reese's Peanut Butter Cups commercial.

Two guys in the Reese's commercial found out how much fun it is to combine your two favorite things. I, too, have discovered this phenomenon. For me, the combination is a mashup of maps and news. While this mixture might not be quite as good as a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, it's pretty close in my book.

I have always enjoyed the newspaper section where you can read about what is going on your state or other states. Following this concept, my idea is to display a map with markers and information windows on places for which news is available. The information window will show headlines and allow click-through to the underlying story.

The source of news I plan to use is AOL RSS news feeds. The RSS feeds often have a place name associated with a news items. I'll extract and geocode the locations and then populate the map with markers for newsworthy places.

This is my first time using the MapQuest APIs so I tried a few baby steps to get the development process moving. I created the following static prototype of MapNews:

This prototype shows details for a particular zip code. I've decided that this isn't quite the right model as this is pulling in news for a selected location. It seems to me that a better model is a push model. The map should be zoomed out to the entire US to show which locations have associated news. You can then click on the locations that appeal to you and view the headlines.

The other concept shown is selection of news channels (national, business, and sports). These should map directly to specific RSS feeds, so I'll keep that.

The process for building this prototype was straightforward. I created an account at the MapQuest Technical Resource Center and obtained an API key and downloads of the Javascript API and documentation. I was able to produce this prototype after reading the first couple of pages in the Advantage API Javascript Developer Guide. I, therefore, won't cover those details here.

I worked with the HTML page on my local file system without moving the page to a web server. This required configuring my account to allow blank referers. After making the account changes, it takes an hour or so for the settings to propagate to the MapQuest servers. Allowing blank referrers should be avoided as it allows anyone to obtain and use your API key. Correcting this is high on my To Do list as I build out MapNews.

The next step is developing a design to identify the components and architecture I'll use to bring MapNews to life.