MarkKawakami.com

“A casual relationship with reality”

Giving Mapquest the Finger

OK, yeah, I bagged on Google about not validating, and I will again in just a moment. But let's remember that Google continues to kick some serious ass. And right now, they're kicking the ass of Mapquest.

Yesterday, Google released Google Maps, and it's jaw-droppingly good. Unfortunately, at the moment you need either Internet Explorer for Windows or a Mozilla based browser like Firefox, Netscape 7.1+, Mozilla, etc. This leaves out Apple's Safari, but support for that should be added before too long I imagine (a similar thing happend with Gmail*).

So what makes Google Maps so cool? Well, first of all, it's very pretty. The maps just plain look better than they do at Mapquest, and they resize to fit your browser window, which means not having to deal with Mapquests tiny little maps.But behind the beauty is an amazing interface. The maps scroll so you can drag them around. By clicking on the "Local Search" link, you can search for "sushi" in "Burbank, CA" and a map will appear with a bunch of sushi places marked. First thing to notice, the marks are very pretty, with drop shadows (very cool). Click on one of the marks and a little balloon pops up with the name of the business, the address, and links to get directions to and from there.

And getting directions to and from is very nice as well. The map has the route clearly marked out, and you can click on each of the steps and a balloon with a close-up of that part appears.

Really, words don't do justice to just how great this is, you have to play with it to see it. Everyone who I've shown it to has had to pick their jaws up off the floor. It's an amazing piece of programming and a lot of it had me scratching my head wondering "how did they do that?".

There is a little disappointment with the directions though. They don't really always give you the best directions to a given destination. For instance, from my house to my work, they recommend getting on the 101. In actual practice, this is the lamest way to get there. I'm not worried about this. Gmail has made a lot of improvements to its service since Google originally launched it, and I think the same will occur here. What I'd really like to see, and so far as I know, no online map service offers, would be for them to ask two additional questions when getting directions. The first would be what time you wanted to leave or arrive, and the second would be whether you'd be carpooling. With these two questions, they could determine that a route that may be longer would actually be faster because of being able to use the carpool lane or stay off the freeways in rush hour.

At any rate, it's still really incredibly sweet. Definitely check it out.

* Incidentally, I have like 50 gmail invitations if anyone wants them. Gmail offers 1GB of storage and the ability to google your email, which is pretty handy. And it's free.

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