I have a SPOT. Yes, by now my t-shirts that I carry on my trip might have many spots that tell about my travels and motorcycle maintenance. But now I wanna talk about the SPOT GPS Messenger. SPOT offers shared online maps that show my SPOT tracks, nice, isn’t it? But couldn’t I somehow embed those maps directly in my wordpress blog? Then I don’t have to worry about doing manual updates to a “current location widget” any more. Out of the box from SPOT there is a way to do it, but I don’t like the looks of their maps and the timeframe for showing gps locations is limited. But I always try to see what’s outside of the box and there is a solution for this and I will show you how that magic works!
What is that SPOT on your Backpack?
I often get asked what that orange device on my shoulderstrap is. The SPOT GPS Messenger is a good device for travelling, especially for solo travellers it’s recommended since you can call for help (Search and Rescue) even when away from any cellphone service area. But it wouldn’t be called messenger if it only served for SOS calls. It offers Check-in Messages (“I am ok” type of messages) or custom predefinable messages that can be sent to a mailing list, or even to cell phones if you buy the service packages. In the US you can also call roadside assistance with it.
Myself, I hardly ever use those check-in or custom messages. Instead I use the valuable tracking feature of the spot device, which sends a gps location to satellites every 5 minutes (every 10 minutes if you buy the default package) and recorded on the servers from SPOT. From your account you can create shared pages that show those locations on a map. Like that my family and friends can always see where I am and if I am still moving. In case I know I will stay put for a few days I might use the custom message which I have defined to be something like “I am staying put for a few days, no movement expected!”. As it turns out I am a very lazy button pusher so the only buttons I push every day are power and tracking.
The tracking is near-live (there’s a lag of something around 15-30 minutes from sending a tracking location for it to show up in the system and on the map) and why not using those tracks for other purposes as well? Like to geotag photos or just to keep the track for my records. I can also share my spot maps so family and friends (or whoever might be interested) can see the route I took.
This is nice but the “stock” solution has some disadvantages:
- Spot will delete your GPS tracking data after four weeks, so you would need to regularly login to your spot account and save your data (which is super cumbersome btw because you need to scroll through several pages and export every page on its own) if you wanna keep it for the records or for use in other applications
- Deleted data means only a portion of your trip is shown (at least in the case of extended travelling)
- I have to send the link to my shared spot map to everybody, or put a link to the spot site on my homepage
- Integrating the findmespot map directly results in a completely overloaded type of map containing only the last 7 days (max) of data
What I really wanted was to show the SPOT data/maps on my blog, automatically, so I don’t have to think about this anymore. But the solution offered by SPOT itself doesn’t yield in a very elegantly looking map, there’s only 7 days of data max and you can only see the tracking points without being connected by a line (see appendix at the end of the article).
But there is a solution to the whole dilemma, it’s called Spotwalla. It’s a free third party service that grabs your data from SPOT and then saves it for good. Furthermore it offers an interface so you can integrate a trip map or a last location widget in your blog or homepage. And it offers some security options as well like the very handy secure zone (e.g. hide your location data around where you live). I will show you how to set it up!
Spotwalla supports more than just SPOT messengers, popular choices like the DeLorme InReach or Bubbler GPS work as well, you can even import gps data from other devices to include in your maps. Since I only have a SPOT this howto is focused on just that, at least the part about setting up the device. You can still read the chapters on how to embed the maps on your website. Since it supports more devices it is a great allround solution for storing your gps data from different devices and, if you wish, making them available on your website.
Embedding your SPOT maps on your Website
Go through the tabs on top of this page to get you started quickly!
1. Share Your SPOT Data
So that Spotwalla can grab your data from SPOT you need to set up a shared page. From that share page Spotwalla can read your GPS data.
Log in to your findmespot.com account and go to My Devices. Make a note of the ESN of your SPOT device:
Go to “Share” and create a share page. I suggest to share all types of location messages so that all data will be available in Spotwalla. Wheter or not to show all of this data on your maps you can still configure in Spotwalla. You can leave out the password or set one as you like. Note that when you upgrade your service you might have to edit your share page to include the new data. When I upgraded from basic service to include unlimited tracking this was not automatically included in my share page so Spotwalla did not get my tracking data. In fact Spotwalla didn’t show any movement on the maps anymore, so I had to go and activate this on my SPOT share page.
When you have created the share page you will be shown a URL that you will need for Spotwalla. Copy & paste this URL into an editor to use later on in Spotwalla.
Your share page will then show up under the “Share” tab. From here you can open your share page (for instance if you did not copy the URL and need to get it) or edit it to include the data you want to share to Spotwalla.
For now we’re done in findmespot.com and we’re ready to head on to Spotwalla!
2. Create a Spotwalla Account
If you already have a Spotwalla account skip to the next chapter. If you haven’t got an account yet it’s time to sign up. Go to spotwalla.com and click on “Register“. The service is free. If you already have an account login and proceed to the next chapter.
Not much to explain here, enter your valid email address and choose a password.
Next enter your details and choose a username. I preferred to use UTC as it makes things easier to understand when I use the same timezone in several settings. You’re free to set this to your timezone.
Make sure you have read, understood and agreed to the User Agreement. And prove that you are not neither Number 4 nor Number 5… some might know the movies ;)
Once you have created your account you will get a list of help pages for all supported devices. As you can see Spotwalla supports quite many, SPOT and DeLorme InReach certainly being the most popular variants. But you might also use Bubbler GPS app on your smartphone and want to integrate it’s data. The latter being actually a good thing if you let’s say just wanna save and share your current location every evening you have wifi.
3. Add your SPOT Device to Spotwalla
Well then, you got your Spotwalla account, so time to log in and add your SPOT device to your account!
Once logged in, click on your username in the top right hand corner and go to Devices.
If you haven’t added any devices yet, the list will be empty. Just go ahead and click on “Create a Device“.
Since in this how-to we’re setting up a SPOT device go ahead and choose “SPOT Personal Tracker”. If you want to add another type go ahead and read the help pages for whatever device you are setting up.
Enter your SPOTs ESN (if you haven’t got it go to your findmespot.com account and find it under “My Devices”) and the URL of your SPOT share page. You should have this URL in an editor if you followed this how-to. If you don’t you can still get it from your findmespot.com account (see following picture below). If you have set a password in your share page enter this here, if you have left this blank then leave it blank here as well. Make sure to activate the checkbox to “activate this device’s message interface” so that Spotwalla will actually collect the data.
If you need to get your SPOT share page URL then log in to your findmespot.com account, go to “Share” and click on the name of your share page. You might get a message like this (because there is no GPS data yet), but don’t worry, we just need the URL. So just click OK.
Then copy the URL from your share page (copy the whole URL in your browsers address bar). This is the URL you need to enter in your Spotwalla’s SPOT device configuration.
4. Create a Last Location Widget in Spotwalla
The “Last Location Widget” from Spotwalla will only show your last known location on a map that you can integrate in your blog or homepage. If you only want to show your trip (as in more than just the last tracking point) then skip this chapter.
If you want to use the Last Location Widget you have to activate this in Spotwalla for your device. Go to Devices, click on your device and choose “Widget” from the drop down menu.
Next you need to activate the first checkbox to enable the widget for this device. You can also choose which type of GPS data from your SPOT device should be used for the widget. Usually you want this to be “Tracking”. But maybe you are just using the OK (check-in) or custom messages on your SPOT, then activate accordingly. Note, if you did not set up the type of message you want to use in your findmespot share page Spotwalla will not have any data to show. That’s why I suggested to activate everything in your findmespot share page and then configure what you want to show in Spotwalla.
When you create/update your widget you will be presented a URL that you should copy & paste to an editor for further use in your Blog/Homepage.
If you ever feel your widget has been compromised by the NSA or a hacker or someone is just putting your widget on their own homepage then you should create a new widget URL which you then will have to update in your blog/homepage as well. Note that you might just have generated a new URL by accidentally clicking on this button, then go ahead and put the new URL in your blog/homepage!
Now we come to the interesting part: how do I actually add the widget to my blog/homepage? Basically it’s just adding some HTML code of an inline frame that contains the URL of your Spotwalla Last Location Widget and some parameters to configure it to your liking. I personally use Wordpress and have added it as a widget to my sidebar. All you need to do is add a simple “Text” widget and add the HTML (find the code below the picture to copy and paste, but remember to replace the URL with the one from your own spotwalla widget!)
Here is the code you can use, replace the URL with your own!
<iframe src='https://spotwalla.com/myLocation.php?id=2d155532e8f16ecb7&scale=off&scrollZoom=on&format=map&traffic=off&zoomLevel=5&mapType=terrain' width='100%' height='210' scrolling='no' frameborder='0'> Embedding failed because inline frames are not supported by your browser or the web server. </iframe>
A bit of explanation on what’s going on here…
src=’…’ everything within those quotes are part of the spotwalla widget URL. It usually contains some parameters to configure to your liking. You can find documetation on the possible values here, but I will explain you how I set it up to my liking. Note that paramters are separated by an ‘&’
make sure the id is the one from your widget
I don’t want the usual scale of Km or miles to show up on the map.
I want zooming with the scroll wheel on your mouse or a scroll gesture on the touchpad to be enabled.
I want my last location to be shown on a map, not just as GPS coordinates.
I don’t want to show traffic data from google on the map.
Play around with this value to find the default zoom level that fits the size of your widget and that you like. I want this to be “wide” enough to have some references (like I am somewhat close to Mexico City) but “close” enough to show a little more where I am around that reference.
I personally like the terrain maps since it gives an idea of wheter I am hanging out in the mountains.
Next there are a some parameters of the HTML container that contains the widget, in my case this is an iframe. For Wordpress iframe works best but if you use another blog or cms, or just plain HTML it might work with other containers (such as <div>) as well. Note that these parameters are separated by a space and not an ‘&’. If you need to read up on whatever container you are using go and check out W3Schools.
The size of your widget is defined by its container size. I chose the container to be 100% of the width where it is placed, which is the wordpress sidebar for instance. The height I wanted to be fixed to 210px.
I don’t want any scrollbars to appear in my iframe/widget.
No border around my widget please.
As a result, my Last Location widget on my Wordpress blog looks like this, showing a pin with my initials dropped to the last known GPS location of my SPOT device.
Except for the actual location your’s should look similar, but you might be wondering why the pin on your widget shows ‘???’. You simply haven’t configured this yet! Go to spotwalla, click on your username and choose “Preferences” from the drop down.
Then just replace the three question marks with whatever you want to show up in your pin. Note that this is limited to three characters and emoticons don’t work.
5. Show your Trip on your Blog
So you’ve decided you want to show your whole or parts of your trip on your Blog or Homepage? Spotwalla makes this possible as well. It’s basically easy to set up, but there might be a few things that can be a little confusing. But I will tell you where you need to pay attention to!
Go to your Spotwalla account and click on “Trips” from the dropdown menu on your username. From here, you can create your first trip.
Choose your device which we have set up before in Spotwalla. If you haven’t done this yet go back an read how to set it up. Give your trip a meaningful name and add a description to help you distinguish between several trips down the road if you should add more than one.
For the purpose of this how-to I will create an “All-Time” trip which contains all the GPS data from the time you set up your Spotwalla account to get the SPOT gps data until some time in the future so I don’t need to go back and change this any time soon. If you want to do the same set the start date to at least four weeks from today and then set the end date to be in distand future.
Of course you can always create a trip for a specific vacation or journey you are doing or you did. Useful if you want to share a trip map on that report on your two week vacation in baja california for instance. Also if you want to export your GPS data from a specific trip setting up more than just an “All-Time” trip is very handy. Since I am on an extended journey around the world I just want the trip to include everything and then show this as my (past) route on my blog. Later, when we put the map on the blog we can still say how many past hours from the current time to show up in the map. But if you need a very specific time frame you need to define a trip with just that time frame.
Once you have decided on your time frame for your Spotwalla trip click on “Create”.
Go to security options and choose the type of messages from SPOT that you want to show on your trip map, again this usually will be Tracking, but it’s up to you to show the others as well.
If you’re concerned about someone could see where you live or work exactly you can apply the device’s secure zone. This means once you are within a configured radius of some configured coordinates (e.g. your home) the map will not show any location information. If you want to set up secure zones go to Devices in Spotwalla and do so.
At the time of writing this article Jason from Spotwalla is developing a new feature like “dynamic secure zone”. This will be useful for people that want to show their trips but are concerned some bandidos might see where they are camping tonite and come to steal their beer.
Under Map Options choose an icon of your liking.
For different message types you can also choose them to show as pin or just a dot. For tracking I chose dots because there are many of them and a pile of dots looks still tidier to me than a bunch of pins. You also most certainly want a line drawn from one location to the next so it will actually look like a route on your map. Choose your map type that your map will show initially (until the user changes it for themself), I like terrain.
You can also add track overlays. This could for instance be your planned route or tracks you recorded with other gps devices before you knew Spotwalla existed. Friends of mine bought their SPOT after some months on the road, so they uploaded their tracks from their Garmin GPS to have the whole journey represented in their spotwalla trip map.
Once you have created your trip you can open in from Spotwalla, click on the trip drop down menu and choose “View Trip”. If you have already a history of collected SPOT gps locations you might be confused now because you might not see a whole lot. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong or it doesn’t work, this is just how the Spotwalla Trip Viewer works (and I am not talking about a map integrated into your blog yet). Let me explain…
Open the drop down menu on your trip name in the Trip Viewer and click on “Adjustments”.
Oh, history is set to 6 days, or even to 1 day… by default. So if you have more than 6 (1) days of gps data history that’s why you only saw parts of it. In my example above I was simply hanging around Oaxaca in Mexico for some days without using my SPOT, so even with six days not much to see.
Go ahead and change history to “ALL”.
You should now see all of your SPOT gps data, i.e. all the data in the trips defined time frame!
Once you have all the data you want showing up in the Spotwalla Trip Viewer we are ready to put the trip map on your blog or homepage. Just copy the URL from the Trip Viewer in Spotwalla.
Then use this URL (which also contains your Spotwalla trip ID) in the following HTML code, just quite similar as when setting up the last location widget. Again, I am using wordpress, so I am using inline frames as a container to get it to show up on my blog. On your blog/homepage a different type of container might work better.
Here’s the code to copy and paste for you, replace the Spotwalla URL (or the ID) with yours!
<iframe src="https://spotwalla.com/embed.php?id=12bad581bac7369f3a&scale=on&zoom=default&refresh=no&showHome=no&hoursPast=8760&showAll=yes&fillFactor=5" width="400" height="400" frameborder="0" scrolling="false"> ... </iframe>
Again we have some parameters in the URL of the Spotwalla viewer. For detailed documentation see here. Here’s what I use:
There are two type of URLs you can use:
While the “tripViewer.php” URL has some left hand pane with info, the “embed.php” URL does not have this pane. I prefer the embed one since it’s just what I have been looking for. Again, make sure you use your own URL or ID!
On the trip map I want to see the usual google maps scale.
You can predefine the zoom level, play around what works best. I choose default because it automatically zooms the map to a level where the whole trip is visible.
I don’t want to auto-refresh the map.
Don’t show a home button that leads to the spotwalla homepage.
Very interesting option here. Define how many hours past from the current time will be shown. You can easily create something like “my previous 7 days” like that. Note that you cannot override the timeframe defined in your trip, the first location point will never be any earlier than the defined start date of your trip. I chose 8760 hours, which is one year, so I don’t have to change that for a while.
I want the map to zoom to show all location. If set to “no” the map will zoom into your last location.
I only want 5% of all location points to be shown on the map. In my case this is more than enough to show my past route.
Next are some HTML values for the inline frame container.
width=”400″ height=”400″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”false”
Once you’re done, your trip map should show up on your blog.
Here’s just a few things that could be wrong when your widget or trip map is not showing any or somewhat wrong data.
- Check your share page in findmespot.com if it includes all necessary/wanted message types. I suggest to activate them all.
- Check that the URL from the findmespot.com share page is set up correctly in your device settings in spotwalla
- Check if your spotwalla trip’s time frame is set up correctly
This should generally not be an issue, but I chose to use UTC timezone wherever I can set it. It just helps me to keep it to the same everywhere and since I use the spot tracks to geotag my pictures it’s also easier to calculate the time offset to my cameras local time. Be aware that changing timezones might result in strange looking tracks. When I changed to UTC I suddenly got some sort of zig-zag tracks. It might have been a bug somewhere else but I suggest you decide from the start if you want to use UTC or your home time zone.
Roots of Confusion
A spotwalla trip has a start and an end date. These dates define what a spotwalla trip map can potentially show (given that there is data available in that time frame). In the trip viewer or when embedding the map in your blog you can still define what is actually shown with the hoursPast parameter. Set the start and end date in the trip settings to represent your vacation/adventure and then use the hoursPast parameter to create an embedded map like “my previous three days” for example.
When opening a spotwalla trip in the trip viewer (click on “View Trip” in spotwalla) per default it will always only show the past one day (which would correspond to hoursPast=24 in the embedded map).
Using findmespot maps directly
You can also embed your SPOT shared map directly from findmespot. However, as said above, it’s neither a nice looking map nor does it contain all your data.
This is how your map will look like, probably not what you were thinking of!
A simple and quick way of putting a nice looking map of your SPOT data is using shareyourspot.com. If you wanna try out shareyourspot, the steps are simple:
Copy your shared map URL from findmespot.com and paste it in the box on shareyourspot.com.
If you have previously used your findmespot URL you will see the list of your maps and can edit or view it from here:
You will be shown your map with an overlay where you can choose some options like map type, zoom level and pin style:
Then you will see your finished shareyourspot map and given the html code that you can copy and paste in your website or blog.
The embedded map looks quite nice:
It’s a simple and elegant solution for quickly adding a map before you start your trip. The map will only contain data from the time you set it up. Also, there seems no other way to limit the map to an end date other than go to findmespot and deactivate your shared map, meaning after every trip you deactivate your findmespot shared map and for every new trip you set up a new one on findmespot.com and shareyourspot.com, though I cannot confirm this.
I prefer to use spotwalla. Once set up it stores your data and you have many options what parts of the data you want to use and how you want to present it. You can also export parts or all of your data easily to use in other applications. And it’s the only one that offers security features like “secure zone” which could be important for a lot of people.