More on Web-Friendly Mapping: Google Maps vs. Google Sheets


In my last post I discussed some of the new features and cool possibilities of Google Maps for the humanities at the College. After writing that post, I’ve been obsessing just a bit on the various Web-friendly ways to present map data to an academic community, and I’ve struck on another interesting option in case Google Maps isn’t going to do it for you.

For those of you who are afraid of all things Google, I’m sorry to say this is also a Google product, so you’ll still need to have a Google account to use it, but for those of you who don’t mind surrendering to the Google, Google Sheets (formerly known as Google Spreadsheets — it’s part of the Google Drive suite) does a few mapping tasks really well, things that Google Maps can’t really do at this point, so it’s worth a discussion of when to use which tool.

Mapping with Google Sheets

Let’s start with a simple assignment. Let’s say you have a spreadsheet with all the countries of the world on it along with the populations of those countries, and you’d like to create a map that displays the countries and their populations in a color-coded, easy-to-read way. And let’s go on to say that you’d like to be able to embed that map in a webpage. The tool for you is probably Google Sheets. Here’s how it works:

The beauty here is its simplicity. You can create many different map views from the same spreadsheet with minimal effort. Another real benefit is that these maps are completely dynamic. If you update the spreadsheet, the map is automatically updated as well. And my favorite thing about using Google Sheets for creating your maps is that the countries (or states) are automatically outlined and predefined. You can’t do that in Google Maps.

More Complex Mapping Tasks Require Google Maps

Moving on to a more complex assignment, let’s say you want to create a map with individual points, add data sets to your map, enhance the map with video or images, allow your users to zoom in and out of the map, search your map, or do just about anything other than make a map that acts like a chart. Google Sheets is not good for that. You’d be much better off with Google Maps in that case.

So, in closing, keep in mind that you have options when creating and displaying your maps, and that there’s no reason not to mix and match and use the right tool for the right job. You can even embed a Google Map and a Google Sheets map in the same webpage when that makes sense. The key is that each of these different options are different tools for your digital toolbox. You wouldn’t use a hammer on a screw (well, you could, but the results would be pretty unpleasant), and you wouldn’t use a screwdriver on a nail (again, I guess you could, but again, very messy results).

Faculty members at the College of William & Mary who are interested in learning more can contact me at for help.

About Mike Blum

Mike is the Academic Technologist for the Humanities at the College