Saturday, February 19, 2005

Google Maps

The folks over at Google Labs keep cranking out new things, and one of the latest is Google Maps. I tend to use a Mac for browsing the internet, and I tend to use the Safari browser. So, the first thing that disappointed me about Google Maps was the lack of Safari support. This happened with gMail when it first came out also, so I'm not exactly sure why Safari is so different. Anyway, Google Maps currently works in IE 5.5+, Firefox 0.8+, Netscape 7.1+, and Mozilla 1.4+. Safari support is being worked on. Maybe Steve Jobs needs to give Google a call about this...

It's a good thing that I have Firefox on my Mac, in addition to Safari. (IE on the Mac is no longer an active Microsoft project)

Google Maps has a very good visual feel to it. It's snappy, responsive, and seems to be quite a bit better than Mapquest, both visually and architecturally. However, I've found a couple of problems very quickly.

I grew up in a very small town of 400 people, called Hubbardston, so I always figure that it's a good map test. When I buy a road atlas, I look to make sure that Hubbardston is on the map. If not, I don't buy it. Google Maps shows the streets, and one cemetery, but not the river that runs through town. It shows other nearby bodies of water, but not Fish Creek. There are actually 3 cemeteries, rather than one. Who cares, right? I mean, we're driving cars here, and we're probably not trying to find a cemetery as part of our destination. When I searched for Hubbardston businesses, Google Maps came up with a very nice list, complete with phone numbers and little bubble arrows. The arrows were off at times. Many of the business addresses came from, which happens to be a web site that I manage. So, that seems to work pretty good.

Another test was driving directions to Houghton, Michigan. I went to college at Michigan Technological University in Houghton, and I drove up there last weekend for Winter Carnival. I know the fastest way to get there, yet the directions given to me by Google Maps would have added at least one hour to the 8-9 hour journey. The directions chose freeways over divided highways, ignoring the more direct route.

My conclusion? Google Maps is in beta, and holds real promise at being the best mapping interface on the internet. But, where other Google products are also in beta, I think that Google Maps is really in beta. I wouldn't trust it -- yet. But, I think it's worth looking at, in addition to Mapquest or Yahoo Maps for verification.

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