There are few services on the internet today more ubiquitous than Google Maps. Originally designed to be downloaded by users as a desktop application, it quickly became a web-based service once the company that gave birth to it was acquired by Google in 2004. By 2005, the user-friendly mapping solution was a household name. Six years later, developers are still discovering new ways to leverage the venerable mapping service to produce more information and expand its functionality, making an already awesome free service even better. To show you what we’re talking about, we’ve put together a list of our ten favorite tips and uses for Google Maps. Some come from Google, others from third-party developers. All of them are awesome.
Keep Your Default Location Up to Date
This one’s been baked into Google Maps for some time now, but it’s a great tip nonetheless. If you turn to the service for directions on a regular basis, consider signing into your Google account and updating your default location as often as need be. Doing so will spare you the torment of having to enter your home address over and over again.
What could be better than finding beer? We’ll tell you: nothing. The Beer Mapping Project leverages the power of Google Maps to help you find brewpubs, homebrew stores, beer bars and microbreweries around the the globe. Updated on a regular basis by the site’s staff and beer enthusiasts from every corner of the planet, this is one site that’ll see you straight to the suds, no matter where you roam.
Why Google Maps allows users to zoom in to a level that they don’t even have images for is beyond us. Fortunately Smart Zoom—another brain child from the folks at Google Labs—makes this a thing of the past. To enable it, simply click on the green beaker icon in the top left corner of your Google Maps window, scroll down and click it to life.
Find a Bathroom
After a hard night of using The Beer Mapping Project, you’re likely gonna need to tinkle. Safe2pee offers one of the most important online services ever: A Google map of all the public bathrooms near you. Users are invited to add new bathrooms to the site’s Google Map, as well as data on what kind of facilities are provided and whether the john available to paying customers only or to the general public.
Drag n’ Zoom
Google Maps is awesome. The Google Maps magnification bar? Not so much. Fortunately, Google Labs has a better solution—Drag n’ Zoom. Enabling this add on places a small icon underneath of the magnification bar. To zoom in on the map you’re viewing, click the icon and drag a box around area you want to view up close and release your mouse key. Boom. The area inside the box is embiggened.
WeatherSpark offers an impressive number of weather forecasting and history tools via a well organized set of Google Maps and the graphs provide more data than a conventional site. Offering decades of position-based weather information, up-to-date forecasts and over-all climate information, WeatherSpark is the only online weather tracking resource you’ll ever need.
Tale of Things
Google Maps have charted the Moon, Mars and under the seas of our own planet. Isn’t it time it was used for something important, like mapping the whereabouts of our material possessions? Tale of Things uses Google’s mapping magic to do exactly that. The site encourages visitors to tag buildings, antique radios—anything really— for the sake of tracking their location, no matter where in the world they’re found.
You don’t need to travel far to get the most out of Google Maps. By enabling Google Labs’ Around Here feature, you’ll be able to see what’s hot or interesting in the area of the Google Map you’re currently viewing. Give it a try: Around Here is a great way to find out what’s popular in your neck of the woods.
Remember Swine Flu? Yeah, that was fun. To help you avoid the next major contagious disease outbreak, HealthMap has been pegging out disease and illness outbreak locations on a dedicated Google Map, so that you can find out what’s trying to kill you (be it local or international). We bet this is one service that’ll really come into its own once the zombie apocalypse ramps up.
Roll your Own
Can’t find what you’re looking for with Google Maps or through a website that leverages their APIs? Why not create a Google Map to suit your specific needs? MapLibs lets users create a Google Map on the backbone of another map or image, real or imagined. Just take that hand drawn layout of your uncle’s farm or a map of Azeroth, scan it in and have at it.