We've all seen the familiar images of our cars, friends or family, on Google Maps images, maybe even held a crazy pose while the Google car drove by. The popular application layers maps, user data from smart phones, crowd sourced traffic information and the imagery from planes & cars. The Google map cars provide 360° views where you could be immortalized on the "street view" until an update goes through.
Google Maps History
It all started back more than 11 years ago at "Where 2 Technologies" with a C++ program. Designed by brothers, Lars and Jens Rasmussen, "Expedition" was mapping software. Software that can be downloaded for use is great, but what about the internet, which is what Google's Larry Page wanted when negotiating for the prototype. Google acquired the company in October, 2004. What made this application so different was the use of a new programming ability, AJAX, which allowed you to put pins in the map on the wall, "geolocation". Using Expedition' as the backbone, the team added traffic analysis and geospatial layers, turning it into the application we are familiar with today. Google Maps was launched in February of 2005, and has stayed popular and relevant due to its continued collaboration with the public, every-day-people collaboration, not just system engineers and programmers.
Google Maps vs Earth and Satellite
In the beginning, Google Earth and Maps were extremely different. Advances in technology and imagery are closing the gap, but the difference is a macro versus micro usage type. Earth has amazing layers associated with it such as, below water 360° scenes and aerial analytics you can zoom into. It is the difference between looking at a globe with topology versus a map with a topographical legend. Google Maps is extremely helpful if you need directions somewhere, but if you are doing an in depth analysis on erosion of a desert based on water and wind patterns, you will find Google Earth very helpful.
Places on Maps
The Wikipedia layer on Google Earth is one of large differences in recent years. The layer was removed from Maps because of little use, but replaced with 'Places' a user review driven information snippet. The Wikipedia layer has stayed on in Earth, which makes sense when you think about the reason for the application, to really dig in and analyze the earth. Rarely have I ever looked for directions to a building, needing to know the year it was built and exactly why it has historical significance. I'm sure there are people that would like to know that information, and that is why we have different applications with those features, like Google Earth.
Driving Direction and Bike Trails
Google Maps is magical and while it is able to be used on a macro level in conjunction with Google Earth to accomplish many things, most people just need to be able to get by. We use Maps to get to work on time, to pick up groceries and actually make dinner before it's time to put kids to bed. Of course, everyone did this before the internet, but now it's easier with a splash of fun. Did you know that you can find paved bike trails in almost every city so you can learn to ride a bike without worrying about getting hit by a car? People that go out to a bar actually use Maps, not to get directions, but to find someone to drive them home on Uber (a non-traditional taxi service).
Embed Google Maps On Your Website
Route planning is algorithm based, although the 'real' layers have an effect on the outcome. The "real" part is the customization like choosing highway or toll road versus back roads or walking. Dijkstra's algorithm is used, but one must also apply the layers of traffic, accidents, events and road maintenance. For those of you that are not mathematicians, Dijkstra's algorithm calculates the time to all surrounding places from one place.
User reviews of places have become another part of the crowd sourcing that Google is popular for. Tied into the libraries accessed within the Google application and labs, reviews are now point based offering prizes or coupons based on how active you are. This input is informational, not only with reviews and tips but also filling in incomplete or inaccurate information. Where Wikipedia was once used to help with this, they took the public editing notion and applied it to mapping and exploring our world.
Public transit route planning launched December 2005 on Google Labs (the test environment for apps that may in the future become a part of the popular 'priority' apps). The transit system in Portland, Oregon lent the support for this layer of Google Maps, but with the inclusion of hundreds of other cities and transit systems it is now a great tool. With this one layer you are able to make better time decisions, comparing how long it takes to get somewhere in rush hour via car or via subway. The transit layer was integrated into Maps in 2007 and by 2011 was able to provide updates in real time. Now it's actually possible to know if you'll miss your bus or if you can finish your morning cup of coffee. Public transit is always changing and like with everything google does, they rely on normal people to help them make it user friendly, actively seeking out new transit information and companies to work with.
Autocomplete Address Magic
The library APIs are also something you may have access to in order to place informational snippets on places and things of note in your own website, while still using the well known Maps application. Aerial views, and all images used with Google Earth are available to use with Maps as well. With the acquisition of Waze (crowd sourced traffic) in 2013, Maps redesigned the program to have even more information at your fingertips.
One of the most interesting APIs, "AutoComplete", has been around since 2008. Tied directly to Google Places, within a max of 12 keystrokes you are able to find the address you were looking for. It's just a handy tool to use, you don't think about how much faster and more accurate typing on that little screen is until the 30+ keystrokes that make up an address aren't needed. Best of all, the auto complete is personalized to the user. It kind of sounds like someone is stalking you, but no worries, it's just you. The algorithms used to auto complete an address is based on search history, geographical location, and bookmarks. These layers of information are provided by all of your devices logged into your personal Google account.