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Digital Atlas of Historical County Boundaries

Thanks very much to DK of the Newberry Library, who was kind enough to drop me a note about the recently-completed Digital Atlas of Historical County Boundaries from the Newberry Library. This atlas is organized by state and documents every change in US counties from 1634 to 2000. This makes my little genealogist heart go patter patter patter. The maps are a little clunky, but the work that must have gone into this is unbelievable. I forgive slightly clunky maps. The project is available at http://publications.newberry.org/ahcbp/.

You start with a map of the US. Pick a state and you’re off and running. When you first pick a state you’ll get lots of options, including links to a full list of all counties ever to have existed in the state with historical details, commentary, and a bibliography with sources. There’s also an option to look at an interactive map of a state, and that’s where I spent my time.

The map lets you choose a date, then gives you a state map with two sets of boundaries: black lines for historical boundaries, and white lines for modern boundaries. A series of checkboxes lets you specify map layers — you can include the modern county names, look at modern county seats, proposed counties, and so on. Be sure to use the Refresh Maps button — this ain’t Ajax. Sometimes it’s a little hard to read the modern and the historical county names together on the same map, so I had to switch that layer on and off when looking at some states.

A nav on the left lets you move around the map a bit, as well as get individual county information, data on groups of counties, and details about county formation and existence.

If you are doing genealogy research and you go back far enough, you are at some point going to find yourself confused with county designations or location. Just looking around in this atlas for a few moments explained something I had always wondered about Virginia and why Brunswick County suddenly vanished from my genealogy notations around 1780, to be replaced with Greensville.

The maps are not as slick as the more modern maps, but really, who cares? This resource is free and the information is amazing. The only thing I would recommend (and I’m not sure this is possible) would be some way to link from a historic county outline to a modern Google Map, in order to get information on city and town locations. TERRIFIC STUFF.

Yahoo Announces PlaceFinder

So nice to get some good news out of Yahoo for once. The continued disintegration of its directory is making me mighty depressed. Anyway, Yahoo announced yesterday the public release of Yahoo! PlaceFinder, a REST Web service providing geocoding of named places.

It supports building-level address recognition in 75 countries, and points of interest for the same 75 countries and the rest of the world. PlaceFinder lives at http://developer.yahoo.com/geo/placefinder/. You’ll need an application ID and you’ll be limited to 50,000 requests per day. (You can contact Yahoo if you think you’re gonna beat that.)

Being a REST service, everything goes into the URL fairly simply. You can request something as specific as an exact address or alterately a point of interest (POI) name — like an airport location code. Responses are available in XML, JSON, or serialized PHP. Possible response information includes latitude and longitude, postal code, neighborhood name, country code, time zone, and area code. You can get complete documentation here.

Have you tried PlaceFinder? What did you think? Leave a note in the comments.

Find a Deal — Find Lots of Deals — Nearby

Cheese croutons to BusinessInsider.com, which had a recent article about a site called Dealmap, a metasearch for geographically-based retail deals and discounts. That’s the only way I can think to put it. It aggregates local deal offerings (like Foursquare, Groupon, etc.) and chunks them on a map. You can try it at http://www.thedealmap.com/.

Here’s how it works: you specify a city/state or a zip code. Dealmap generates a map with icons for different kinds of deals — restaurants, hotels, shopping, etc. Click on an icon and you’ll get some details about the deal at the bottom of the map (that’s what’s happening in the screenshot.) Then you can either click on “Get Deal” (which takes you to the deal page on another site) or click on the “More Details” which keeps on Dealmap and gives you more information about the offering, where it came from, a picture of the business, etc. I saw deals from Restaurant.com, TheDealist.com, what looked like e-mailed newsletters from the companies themselves, KGB Deals, and Goldstar. (Users and local businesses are also invited to submit their own deals, with the caveat that online-only deals are not allowed.

I went to search near a location that I knew offered a coupon through Google Places, and I did not find its coupon, so either that one was missed or Google Places offers are not listed. Despite that there’s enough here to keep you interested. I looked at the map for Nome, Alaska, and despite having a population of under 4,000 there was still one deal there — special prices at Subway.

Dealmap has several ways to keep track of offers away from the Web site, including presences on Facebook and Twitter. There are also daily e-mail newsletters for several different cities and — coming soon — some apps. An easy way to get the skinny on cheap deals for this weekend or any time, and pretty easy to use.

Yahoo Maps Menu Items

A clever idea on the part of Yahoo. In addition to searching for restaurants, you can search for specific items in restaurants when you’re doing a Yahoo search. So if you don’t want just seafood but grilled Tilapia, you have a search option. I like the idea but I got confused a couple of times.

Say I want tiramisu in New York. I would go to Yahoo’s main search engine and just search for tiramisu New York. Yahoo would figure out that I’m looking for food and the result would look like this:

Yahoo gives you a map and a list of restaurants. I picked out the Ninja restaurant right away, went to the Web site, and looked at its menu. Though its dessert listing included the intriguing “Ninja Star,” I could not in fact find a listing for tiramisu. It’s possible that Ninja had it once and no longer has it, I suppose.

I did find tiramisu on the menu at Landmarc, Quintessence, and Lil’ Frankie’s Pizza (I went through the results and picked three to check that looked interesting.) The lesson is doublecheck the menu before you adjust your taste buds and head out.

Be careful how specific you get, too. Halibut in New York got me 169 results, while grilled halibut got me 150, but with a lot of obvious wrong matches… broiled halibut as the menu item with the word grilled somewhere near by, problems like that. So be as specific as you can. I was pleased to see that there were plenty of results even in non-metro areas — Savannah Georgia isn’t nearly as large as New York, but I still found 82 results on a search for oysters.

Google Gets Places, Maps Get Ads

Last Tuesday Google introduced Google Places, sort of. Google has had a Local Business Center, a place where business owners could register their businesses and provide additional information, for quite a long time. The renaming of the site is Google Places and there is a little bit of new functionality, but most of it’s not available unless you’re in certain rollout cities. Google Places is available at http://www.google.com/places.

That URL isn’t going to do you much good unless you’ve verified a place of business. And that’s where the first big change has come; if you run a business without a storefront or a formal office — say, you work from home — you can now register a business and keep your address private. And if you have a business where you go out into the community to provide a service, you can specify a geographic area that you serve. Great ideas for service businesses and consultants.

No matter what kind of business you have, you can also now get customized QR codes, which you can put in your own marketing material. A QR code is a sort-of bar code that can direct users who scan it with their cell phones to the mobile version of a business’ Place Page. You can learn more about QR codes at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QR_Code. Your business may already have a QR code image if you were named one of Google’s Favorite Places. Google is sending out window decals to another 50,000 “Favorite Places” so you might be getting that in the mail too.

Google already had several useful features in place for its Google Local Business — there are stats reports showing what people are searching for when they find your listing, and the zip codes from which viewers are requesting driving directions. And more recently Google offered a way to post a “real-time” update on a Maps listing — a little tweet sized update that can also contain an URL if you like. It would be REAL handy if Google added its goo.gl URL shortener to the mix so you could track clickthroughs on your update. As it is you have to use your own bit.ly or something, and the reports are not integrated into Google Places.

Some of Google’s new Places offerings are available in only a few places. Google is now offering business photo shoots which is exactly what it sounds like — a business can request that Google come in and do a free photo shoot of its store. No word on where that’s available but it kind of blows my mind. Google is also offering the ability to pay $25 a month to get “Tags” for making Google Maps listings stand out. Tags are only available in five cities at the moment with five more on the way.

As a consumer I’m a little leery of advertising on Google Maps. As someone who has dealt with Yellow Pages sales reps and totaled up costs for line listings and tiny little black and white ads, I’m thrilled at the idea of paying 25 bucks a month to advertise in a medium where I can get quantifiable, trackable results. Google’s challenge is going to be to balance this revenue opportunity (I’m sure you can multiply my feelings by thousands and thousands of business owners) versus a good experience for searchers/consumers.

Bing’s Adding some Features

What’s the opposite of spring cleaning? Spring adding? Spring enhancing? Whatever it is, Bing is doing it, with an announcement last week of new features coming up on its Web site.

The first thing is the Quick Tabs in the Explore Pane at the left of the search results. The links here are sort of a combination of clustered search and context. If you do a search for Dallas, for example, you’ll get general links to Dallas events and Dallas weather and Dallas jobs, but you’ll also see related searches like Dallas TV Show, Dallas Morning News, etc. Bing is testing moving some of this data to the top of the page for better/faster/more obvious access. I’m not seeing this yet, but I hope the results are true tabs (easy to get back to original results.) Bing is doing a good job of helping users easily add context to their searches and get key data from their searches with their left nav.

Bing is also riding that real-time bandwagon. It’s already teamed with Twitter and has started testing “new experiences for real-time results.” Also in its own words: “For example, when you search for a publication such as the New York Times, Bing not only gives you quick access to specific sections of the destination website, but also provides the most popular shared links from that publication.” When I did a search for New York Times I got a first result that looked like this:

In this case the latest links at the bottom were not, as far as I could tell, the most popular. Instead they were the latest items from the NYT feed. The “Latest Posts” feed links to an XML file. Searching for Washington Post and LA Times didn’t find any latest posts. However, searching for Dallas Morning News did find a search result for the latest stories.

From Bing Cool to Bing Pfui. Bing also announced a new feature called Map App. Map App shows real-time data from foursquare on the map you specify. Sounds neat, right? I’ll have to take Bing’s word for it; I can’t get it to run. I’ll hold off on my rant about Adobe Flash and now Microsoft Silverlight… gaaaaah.

The map app aside, I’m looking forward to integration of more shortcuts to important data in search results, and, hopefully, some more credible real-time than a random Twitter stream.

Database of Solar Installations

Thanks to Laboratory Equipment for the heads up. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has a new “community driven” Web site showing photovoltaic installations across the US. Open PV has over 67,000 installations catalogued. (Well, newish — it started accepting data in November.) You can access it at http://openpv.nrel.gov/.

There’s a “Market Mapper” that lets you look at a map of the US and see a variety of statistics about installations, average cost per watt, etc. But if you just want to see what’s going on in your neighborhood, you can do a zip code search and see what’s been installed in your area. The vast majority of installations in this database — over 51000 — are in California, so you might have to do a bit of searching if you don’t use a California zip code.

I did a search of 90210 and found 30 installations. Results are presented in a table that shows things like date of installation, cost per watt, and system cost, but if you click the little green button next to the result you’ll get a few more details like a map of the location, incentive amount, and county. If you want to do more extensive searches, go to the search page and you can search by kW size and/or date completed, in addition to location.

If you want to add some information of your own, visit the share page. You can get more information on the project at the news page (the project is also on Facebook and Twitter) and the FAQ.

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