Google Maps: Feature Rich
Google Maps is a great Web site with more features than you can poke a stick at. Unfortunately, this means that there are probably features you don't know about or don't know how to use, which can dampen the entire experience and stop you from making full use of the service. Here are 10 of the things you may not have known you could do.
Share Exact Map Details
One of the most annoying things about sharing route or map details is that it is often hard (and sometimes impossible) to recreate the map exactly as you saw it on a different computer or for a friend. Google has addressed this by creating dynamic links which automatically update to include all information about your Google Maps session. Click the small "Link" button in the top right hand corner and the HTML link will contain all the information needed to create an exact replica of what you are seeing, from zoom level to travel routes to photo or transit layers.
Embed Google Maps into Your Web Page
A link is great for sharing your map with one or two people but if you want to share it on your Web site, you can go further than simply pasting an HTML link. In the same way you can easily embed a YouTube video into your site, you can also embed the map you want, complete with customisable sizes to suit your site's layout. Posting a dynamic map onto your Web site instead of a static one means that your users can easily see what you want them to see, as well as venture around the area and see the context of your map.
View Geotagged Photos within Street View
Street View is a great tool for having a look at a particular location, but it only uses photos taken from a vehicle on the road and is often limited in its scope. To fill the gaps, Google Maps uses the photo sharing service Panoramio. Provided the photos are properly geotagged, Google Maps can automatically place them in their correct location and allow you to view photos other people have taken of that location. A small thumbnail in the top right corner automatically shows the best user photo depending on the angle you are looking at, but you can view any of the available photos to gain a better picture of the location.
Change Your Travel Route
Google Maps has long had the ability to give you directions between point A and point B but this was often a static route that chose the shortest distance. As any discerning driver will know, this becomes a problem when there is traffic or you know a better way. You might not be able to access traffic information like the SUNA Traffic Channel through Google Maps but you can change the route through dots placed along the route. Drag a dot to the desired place and the route will dynamically shift to suit the new path.
Google My Maps
An increasingly popular feature of Google Maps is the My Maps function, which allows you to create a personalised maps with specific points of interest, routes, photos and videos. You can then share your map with friends or with the wider Google Maps community. You can also search for and navigate along maps created by others. If you are a tourist in a foreign country or simply want to find a new place to go, searching for an existing My Map will allow you to see where others have been and their recommendations.
Find the Best Restaurant
Google has continued to build upon its database of points of interest and already has an extensive list of restaurants and places to eat categorised by location and cuisine. Of course, having a list of the dozens of Italian restaurants in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt isn't much help when you don't know which ones are good or not. Thankfully, Google Maps sources reviews from several Web sites and its own community in order to help you. It will provide review abstracts from the top 10 restaurants depending on your search query, and give you easy to access to reviews for those that aren't in the top 10. You also have the chance to review the restaurant yourself.
Add Your Business to Google Maps
We mentioned this last year but it remains a relatively unknown feature that can rival the publicity afforded by the likes of the Yellow Pages. Google Maps allows you to create a business listing with contact information, a description and the exact location of your business. If you have several outlets or own a franchise, you can even submit an Excel document (provided it is formatted correctly) to cut down on time.
The Ins and Outs of Public Transport
Google Transit is another budding feature of Google Maps, allowing you to see public transport details for a given city. Coverage isn't always extensive — in Australia only Perth and Adelaide have the Transit feature — and even in supported cities the amount of information varies. However, provided you're in a supported city simply click the More button in the top left corner, tick the Transit feature, and a new layer will appear on the map with train, ferry, bus and tram public transport information where available. For some cities the information even extends to individual bus and train routes and timetables for each route.
Send Map Information to Your GPS Navigation Device
There are numerous benefits to planning your trip from home. Many GPS manufacturers offer proprietary software for planning routes while you're at home. The information can then be transferred onto your GPS device. If you're used to Google Maps, however, then you can use your existing routes or create new ones to transfer to support GPS devices. Google provides step-by-step guides for individual GPS devices, so it is a breeze to set up.
Create a Profile to Track Your Submissions
Google Maps is quickly becoming a community in its own right. From the My Maps available on the Web site to the avid community of Sketch Up artists creating 3D rendering for buildings on Google Earth, it has become the work of disparate individuals rather than just a single company. Creating a Google Maps profile allows you to track your own submissions to Google Maps, including restaurant/location reviews and your created maps. You can also see other profiles, allowing you to track the more active users and see their progress on a given journey, or simply use their content to enhance your own Google Maps experience.