Introducing Tech Comm on a Map

I’ve been working on a personal project, and I’m delighted to say it’s ready to share with you! The idea is to help us see what’s happening around the globe, in the world of technical communication. So I’ve put tech comm titbits onto an interactive map, together with the data and functionality automatically provided by Google Maps. To see it in action, go to Tech Comm on a Map.

At the time of writing this post, Tech Comm on a Map contains information of the following types, all related to technical writing and technical communication:

  • Conferences (purple circles)
  • Societies (yellow circles) – includes societies and associations.
  • Other (blue circles) – a grab bag to catch anything that doesn’t fit into the first two categories. This is also the default category for data items that aren’t correctly categorised.

To find the information, click one of the coloured circles on the map. You can also zoom into a particular city or address, by entering the place name or address in the search box.

Where does the data come from?

It’s all in a Google Docs spreadsheet. Up to now, I’ve collected and entered the data myself. I’ve scoured the Web for information about conferences. I’ve also added just a few societies, and a couple of ‘other’ items to prove the category exists. The spreadsheet looks like this:

Spreadsheet containing tech comm data for map

Spreadsheet containing tech comm data for map

What’s the plan for adding more data and maintaining what’s there?

My plan is to invite a few people to help update the spreadsheet that holds the data.  Any data added to the spreadsheet appears on the map immediately. It’s pretty cool!

How does it work?

The tools I’ve used are the Google Maps JavaScript API, the Google Places Autocomplete widget, and Google Apps Script to extract the data from a spreadsheet in Google Sheets. The code and website are hosted on GitHub.

I’ll write another post soon, with more details about the code and the APIs.

Am I planning to add anything more to the project?

There is plenty of potential for enhancements. For example, we could add more categories to the existing three (conferences, societies, and other) to include events like technical writers’ group meetings. We could add styling to the map. And other sweetening we can think of…

A number of people have already made some exciting suggestions for v2. The project is open source, so if you have an improvement to suggest, send me a pull request. 🙂


I’d love to know what you think of the map, and whether you’re excited about adding more events and other types of tech comm titbits! If you’d like to share your ideas, please add comments to this post.

About Sarah Maddox

Technical writer, author and blogger in Sydney

Posted on 7 May 2014, in Google Maps, tech comm on a map, technical writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. Stefan Eike

    Wow Sarah, that is an amazing project. In Germany we have a couple of regional groups that meet frequently, usually in hotels. You’ll find information about these groups here:

    It would be nice to add these groups or give me access to your sheet.

    The CIDM conferences in the USA and Europe would fit well in your map, too.

    • Hallo Stefan

      Thank you. 🙂 The groups form an interesting case. I’ll need to add another data type to the project, to cater for them. That is a good candidate for v2.

      Thanks also for the pointer about the CIDM conferences, and the offer of help in updating the sheet. Getting the permissions and instructions up and running for the spreadsheet updates is my next task.


  2. Colum McAndrew

    First of all congratulations on getting this far. It looks like a really useful resource. Just one minor criticism. Clicking on one of the coloured pins zooms in to display info on the resource. Once there, the only way to zoom back out is to use the zoom bar. Could some sort of “reset” feature be added to return you to the previous view?

    • Hallo Colum
      Thanks! I like your idea of a “reset” feature. At first, I did include an auto-reset, which automatically restored the zoom that the person was using before they clicked the circle. But that was annoying too, because usually people will want to be zoomed in when they’ve chosen a specific conference or other item. For v2, I’ll think about adding an option people can click, to restore the previous level of zoom. (I already do have a check in there, to prevent the zoom from zooming out if people are already zoomed in when they click the circle.)

  3. Very cool. I have a Google doc w/some similar info in it (including content strategy conferences).

    • Hallo John
      Content strategy conferences are an interesting case. Some of them are relevant to tech Comm, whereas others cover a much broader definition of content. Yet it’d be difficult to include some and not others. This is definitely a case where I’d welcome help in choosing and updating the map data.

  4. Sarah, I was just looking for a resource like this. Now if I could sync the events with a Google Calendar… 🙂

  5. For ages, I’ve wanted to create a map showing the location of Technical Authors in the UK, and this is the impetus to do that.

    FYI On you say Activate the Google Maps API v3 service. I could only find Google Maps JavaScript API v3 in the Google APIs Console. I presume they are one and the same?

    • Hallo Ellis
      Cool project! Yes, that’s right. The Google Maps API v3 is the same thing as the Google Maps JavaScript API v3. The documentation is a little presumptuous at times, assigning all the other Google Maps APIs to the nonentity barrel. 😉 Sometimes people even just say “the Google Maps API”. I think this may be because the JavaScript API was the first Google Maps API. I fix that sort of thing up when I encounter it while doing other updates to the page.

  6. Here is what I was able to produce:

    It’s only got two data points so far.

    • Hallo Ellis
      That’s very cool! I see you’re using Google Maps Engine – I investigated that, but eventually went with the JavaScript API instead. It’s great to see another approach.

  7. Hallo all, and especially Colum and Stefan 🙂

    Tech Comm on a Map has a few improvements already. Thanks to Stefan Eike the info windows now pop up when you hover your mouse over the circles, as well as on click. What’s more, if you click a circle a second time, the map restores your previous zoom level.


  8. Hi Sarah,

    This is awesome. A couple of ideas/possibilities for version 2:

    * Most of the conferences have dates associated with them. Can we filter to show only future events?
    * What about tech comm businesses as a category? (asks the mercenary)

    • Hallo Sarah
      Thanks! Those two ideas are great. The second one in particular (adding a category for businesses) should be fairly easy to do, and fits right in with my plan to add a category for group meetups. I’ll add both ideas to my list of potential features.

  9. We have 100s of conferences, world-wide on that you’re welcome to integrate!

  1. Pingback: Tech Comm on a Map now includes businesses and groups | ffeathers

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