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A Review of Online Mapping Sites: Google Maps / Local

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This is part 2 of a 9 part series reviewing online mapping sites. Click here for the introduction to the series.

Google Maps / Local has one text box that users need to fill in, unlike most of the other web mapping services. Users can enter a street address, a postal code or latitude or longitude values, hit Enter and display their map. Aside from offering the standard street map view, Google Maps / Local also offers a satellite / air photo view (depending on the area being looked at). This feature is more fun than it is useful.

Google Maps / Local provides one map size (depending on the user’s screen user), and 18 zoom levels. Additionally, the user has the option of seeing locations mapped against a standard street map, a satellite image, or a combination of the two. Road numbers seem to be symbolized disproportionately relative to place names (see image at right).

The maps appears in muted colours and are simple and clear. Very little data shows up on the map other than road data. This creates a clean looking map but one key data layer that is missing, at least on the Canadian side, is minor water features. In the test location map (see image at left), for instance, the local river and lake do not appear; the satellite view shows what water should appear. Obviously, this is can be a little confusing.

Navigating about the map is simple and more responsive than other online mapping sites. Where most sights require the user to click on one of the arrows surrounding the map, Google Maps / Local allows the user to drag the map about.

Currently from maps.google.ca or maps.google.com only Canada, United States, Ireland, Japan and the United Kingdom show up with detailed roads maps. A drawback of Google Maps is the inability to save the map as an image for use in other applications. Instead, users need to run a screen capture in order to save the map.

Directions from A to B can be easily accessed through a link at the top of the page. The test directions estimated the distance between the two points to be 41.6 km, slightly off from the actual driven distance of 41.3 km even though the suggested route was exactly the same as the driven route. There is no shortest / quickest route option.

In short: Google Maps / Local is spare and attractive. It is ideally suited for the quick search for locations or directions. For users seeking more than this, it might be worthwhile to go elsewhere.

Tomorrow: Map24

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