How to Make a Map from a Shapefile Using Google Fusion Tables

Caitlin Dempsey

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Google’s Fusion Tables offers an easy and free way to display data on a map.  Tabular data containing location information, like an Excel spreadsheet, can be easily imported and mapped out as a point layer.  

Unfortunately, the only type of geospatial data that Fusion Tables imports natively is KML.  If you have a GIS dataset in shapefile format, you won’t be able to upload it directly via Google’s import tool.

There is a free tool available to import a shapefile into Google Fusion Tables in order to map it out. Shape Escape, developed by Josh Livni, allows users to upload a zipped shapefile which is then converted to a KML file and importing directly into the user’s Google Drive account as a Fusion Table.

Preparing the Shapefile for Import

There are two things you need for your shapefile before you can visit Shape Escape to start the conversion process.  

The first, is you need to make sure your shapefile has a .prj file.  The .prj file is a text file that contains the projection information about the shapefile.  

This file is needed in order to convert the projection of GIS data into the epsg:4326 project required by Fusion Tables.  

Second, you will need to take the required files that make up a shapefile (prj, shp, shx, and dbf) and compress your those files into a .zip file.

Importing the Shapefile into Google Fusion Tables

In order to use Shape Escape you will need a Google account and allow shpescape access to your Google Drive account.  Signing up for a Google account is free.  

If you already use another Google service like Gmail, you can use that login information.  Shpescape automatically stores the converted shapefile as a Google Fusion table in your Google Drive.

Visit Shape Escape and select the shp2fusion option.

You will be diverted to your Google login page.  Login to your Google account and you will be taken back to the upload page for shpescape.  

Click the choose file and select the zipped file containing the shapefile to upload it to the service.  If you want shpescape to also calculate a generalized geometry or centroids (for polygons) select those options.  

There is an overall storage limit of 200 MB for your Google Drive and a maximum row count of 100,000 for the shapefile conversion.  Once you’ve select the parameters you want, click on the upload button to start the conversion.

Screenshot from shp2fusion upload.

If you’re using Chrome, a status percentage showing the upload progress will show in the bottom left corner.  Once the file has been uploaded, a status page showing the queue position for your file upload.  How many shapefiles are in the queue varies.

Screenshot from Shape Escape showing a status.

If there are no jobs in the queue, your shapefile will start processing right away.  Once your shapefile has been processed, the status screen changes to show you how many rows were processed and a link to the location of the Fusion table within your account.

Screenshot of the import status from Google Fusion tables.

Viewing the Imported Shapefile in Google Fusion Tables

To view your converted shapefile in Google Fusion Tables, click on the link provided. The attribute information is viewable via the row tab and the map data via the map tab.

 From the map tab, you can customize the display of your imported shapefile such as adding a gradient for qualitative data, and customizing the data that displays in the identify window.  

A screenshot of a spreadsheet in Google Fusion Tables showing car theft records.

The map can then be shared via a link or embedded within a web page.  You can read more about customizing your map data and sharing it with others towards the end of the tutorial about mapping Excel data using Google Fusion Tables.

Google offers many different free to use tools for handling and visualizing data.  One of the tools that is available is Google Fusion Tables.  Users can upload spreadsheets such as Excel files and create charts, plots, and maps with that data.

Making an interactive map with location data from a spreadsheet using Google Fusion Tables is a fairly easy process.  This video tutorial will show you how to:

  • load a spreadsheet into Google Fusion Tables
  • designate column(s) containing location data
  • customize the map
  • share the map

Video Tutorial: How to Make a Map in Google Fusion Tables

Video Notes

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.

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