Well Google maps are not exactly news right now. But it has quickly become one of the most popular mapping websites on the internet. The thing I like about this is that Google’s innovation IMHO has inspired further innovation.
Yahoo has come out with its new mapping website which uses flash and Microsoft has come up with Virtual Earth. New competitors have also entered the fray with A9 from Amazon and the new kid on the block is Ask.com (formerly Ask Jeeves – but thats a whole other post :-) )
Yahoo has introduced a mapping api for flash and ajax, Microsoft has some great imagery and nice navigation in Virtual Earth (as has Ask) and A9 has included an innovative way of displaying images of street corners and buildings along the sides of roads.
So what does all this mean for us developers? I believe this means that one more incredible dimension has been opened for us. No longer is data about location (like addresses) limited to being communicated textually. We can visually represent a location within the context of its surroundings. This context is important because we get a plethora of information about a location from its surroundings. For example: we can now tell if an address is a residential address in a suburb (need to keep a sharp eye out for the house number) or one that is located downtown (if its near a bus station don’t need to drive). Another advantage is the ability to overlay other important information about the location, like weather and traffic for example.
I came to the United States in early 2002. I was a newcomer, without a car or an international drivers license and no credit history. I was lucky enough to be in a city with a good metro system, so I did not feel the pain as much as some others.
When I did manage to get my drivers license and a credit card, and was finally able to rent a car to drive, I found that the internet provided me with a quick easy way to get maps to go wherever I wanted to go.
I had two main choices Mapquest and Yahoo Maps. There were other options, but they were either not free or not popular. I loved the convenience of these tools. All you really needed was 2 zip codes and you could get maps to travel from one end of the country to the other. However, anything else, like a map of the location at various zoom levels or panning around, meant having to re-loading an image multiple times and that on a dial up line was painful.
Time passed and Google came along and changed everything with Google maps. Not only did they bring rich-client interactivity to the maps, they created and distributed an api built around their service. This quickly became the revolutionary tool. With the google api as their base, anything requiring location based data could be displayed in an entirely new way. Interesting ways to use the api have cropped up all over the internet. Here are some of them:
Update: For more complete lists you can find a directory here. This is an Indian site that uses Google Maps api.
Again, there is nothing new in what Google did, the genius was in the applications that they found for these technologies. In addition to Google Maps and Google Suggest they used it in Gmail . These applications, e-mail and maps are extremely complementary to a web-based model. By improving their usability Google essentially opened the eyes of a world weary of unresponsive and simple web applications to the possibilities of the web once more.