Google Maps Beta
By Dirk Hart
Web Site: www.mailstarusa.com
Google has produced another killer app. The Google Maps Beta was released today so I thought I'd give a whirl. I was prepared to be disappointed as other maps servers are pretty slow.
This app is surprisingly fast and has obvious features other map servers lack. The first thing I did was type in Boston, MA which is pretty close to home. Sure enough there was a map, rendered quite quickly too. I didn't see all the street names so I used the slider on the left of the map to zoom in. The map zoomed in very quickly, in fact I was quite surprised with its speed. Using the navigation arrows above the slider I saw that moving the map left, right and up and down were quite speedy as well.
By mistake I double clicked on a portion of the map and saw that it repositioned itself on the spot I had double clicked. Growing suspicious that this wasn't just another clunky map-app I tried dragging a point on the map around - and it worked! Not only did it work, but it worked virtually instantly! Unfortunately the scroll wheel on my mouse did nothing - I had begun to hope it would zoom the map. Some experimentation showed that the Home, End Page Up and Page Down keys caused the map to move around and the + and - keys (no shifting required) (top row OR keypad) zoomed the map in and out.
I typed in phoenix and promptly got a map of phoenix arizona. I guess that's pretty unambiguous so I typed in Nashua, MA knowing full well that Nashua was actually in New Hampshire (NH). I was unable to fool google as it correctly displayed a map of Nashua NH and a number of businesses in the Nashua area, listed along the side of my browser. I typed in "martha's vineyard, ma" (a popular spot for tourists) and got another list of businesses, but nothing concerning Martha's Vineyard. Thinking the apostrophe was confusing google I tried it without and got nothing new beyong this interesting bit: Did you mean: martha's vineyard, ma. Well, that's exactly what i meant, but clicking the link got me nowhere. Oddly, you can get to Nantucket, MA, a tourist spot for those more generously endowed with cash than I.
At this point my thoughts turned to pizza so that's what I typed in, removing any reference to Nantucket, MA from the dialog box. Nonetheless I got a nice list of pizza joints, located on the map with a blob of a pushpin, some of them actually on Nantucket Island. I tried bowling next - google says there's bowling on Nantucket, but I rather doubted it since the establishment that was displayed was called Cold Noses. At this point I noticed that the businesses were displayed as if they had links, so I clicked on Cold Noses and a 'link balloon' popped up with the phone number, address and a link to the Cold Noses website. I followed the link and the Cold Noses web site replaced google maps (sure enough, there seems to be no room for bowling on Nantucket). I went back and saw that the link balloon listed a few similar businesses ("19 more >" ) so I followed that and arrived at local.google.com where you can see the other 19 businesses that also have no bowling.
Returning to http://maps.google.com/maps I saw a dialog box for 'Find a business'. OK, let's try 'bowling near nantucket'. This produced no result other than 'We could not understand the location nantucket.' even though I had just been investigating the bowling situation there. However, 'bowling near nantucket, ma' produced more results, but as we know - there simply is no bowling on Nantucket. There is pizza though. The phrases 'pizza in nantucket, ma', 'pizza on nantucket, ma' and 'pizza near nantucket, ma' produced identical results. Oddly 'pizza on the moon' yields results as well, none of them interesting.
Google maps also has a dialog box for getting driving directions. This is a sore point for me as I have been frequently led astray by other map servers. I tried 01775 to nantucket, ma. This took a few seconds but produced a map that correctly took me to the ferry at Hyannisport, MA and then to Nantucket. Driving instructions were listed along the right edge and I discovered they were clickable. Clicking the driving instructions brings our friend the link balloon back in the guise of a closeup map of the area the particular instruction you clicked on. This was a bit astonishing to me when I first saw it, and allthough it works quite well it was zoomed in a bit too far. The 'closeup ballon' doesn't scroll as the larger map does. The problem with the closeup balloon, although it is a clever feature, is that it is useful primarily to those who have 1. a navigator with them in the car, 2. a laptop, and 3. a wifi link (somehow). Just the thing for war-drivers though. There is a link for printing (which produced an abbreviated map to the one I had been viewing) and an email link which I used to email myself a link of the page. The link I received in the email was shortened however by the presence of a space in the url. Google seems to think it will take just over 11 hours for me to drive the 133 miles to Nantucket. Even allowing a liberal 3 hours for taking the ferry and waiting in line I doubt that's right. Some would argue that it could be right on Friday afternoon before a long weekend in summer.... mmmm, nope, I don't think so.
MapQuest produced similar driving instructions for travelling to Nantucket, but the map was not nearly as legible and, as usual, MapQuest had me making unnecessary turns. MapQuests estimation of the travel time was more reasonable at just over 4 hours, but that seemed too optimistic, considering that you have to take the ferry, line up and all of that, but it is certainly more accurate than the estimate google came up with.
Finally, I typed in 'great maps online' but that gave me a bunch of push pins in Kansas. No, really.
While google maps suffers from the same sort of inaccuracies that all map servers have trouble with I found it excelled in usability. It has several features that making it much easier to use, including the speed with with it responds. Inaccuracies aside, it excels where other maps servers struggle to be good or mediocre.
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More Articles by Dirk Hart 2005-02-01 Dirk Hart