A Brilliant Idea Mashed Up
christmaslights | December 14, 2007 at 08:40 amby
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For years Matt Burgess searched newspapers, magazines and his neighbors for a list of the best Christmas lights in Richmond, Virginia. He wasn’t the only one taking part in a tradition known as the Tacky Light Tour that organically started in the early 1980s. Thousands of pack minivans, rent limousines and charter buses for the annual event, which is known for causing traffic jams and keeping the electric company profitable. However, he was the first to optimize his tedious search by building a website complete with interactive maps and driving directions.
What started as a guide to Richmond’s Tacky Light Tour in 2005 has now grown to over 100 cities and 180 displays with over 7 million Christmas lights combined. TackyLightTour.com allows decorators from around the world to list their display if it has over 10,000 lights. The information collected from decorators is freely available to online visitors in the form of interactive maps and custom driving directions.
TackyLightTour.com is known as a mashup, which is a web application that combines data from more than one source into a single integrated tool. The technology “mashes up” Microsoft Virtual Earth, Yahoo Maps and the GeoName geographical database with information collected on the website.
Each mashup source plays a key role in the overall experience. A variety of maps are available in 2D and 3D modes using Microsoft Virtual Earth, which offers interactive controls like zooming, panning and satellite imagery. The Yahoo Maps service is used to generate a single list of driving directions for up to 25 Christmas displays. The GeoName geographical database is used for geocoding.
According to Matt Burgess, all the sources are crucial elements but they all hinge on the ability to geocode locations. Geocoding is the process of retrieving latitude and longitude coordinates for a physical address. Every address entered into TackyLightTour.com is geocoded. The coordinates are then used to determine distance. This is especially crucial for custom driving directions where the order of a route depends on a series of the shortest distances possible to ensure the shortest overall route possible.
Thanks to this unique combination of technologies, families and friends throughout the country can put down their maps and pick up a mouse to plan their own tour of over-the-top Christmas lights.
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