Unless you've been living under a rock for the past year, you are familiar with Google Maps. It's a brilliant tool; a steamy menage trois of nice big, clear maps, slick satellite technology (thanks to Keyhole - now Google Earth), and Google's base search function. It allows you search for things like Scientologist churches near Philadelphia Airport with accuracy never seen before. It puts Mapquest and Yahoo! Maps to shame.
The satellite maps are so fun to play with that there are even sightseers out there, spending time playing with Google Maps finding things like the Eiffel Tower, the Hollywood Sign, burning oil fields in Iraq, or even just weird things in the ocean. Their list of categories is worth a look-see. Stay in! See the world!
What really sets Google Maps apart, however, is the fact that Google released their application programming interface (API) to the uber-geeks of the internet to allow them to use Google Maps for (most of) their own nefarious purposes. As we all know, nefariousness runs deep in the internet.
What has been born of this evil combination of Google Maps and random internet nefariosity will make your head spin.
By now, most people who are familiar with Craigslist will be familiar with the fact that the housing maps have been integrated with Google Maps, but that's just the beginning. If you're in Seattle, you can now use the internet to catch a bus with Seattle Bus Monster. If you're in Chicago you can find out where not to leave your car. No matter where you are, you can find out where to grab a beer, the broadcast location of the nearest NPR station, where you can find a hotel, or even a urinal.
But wait! There's more! Pretty much any public information that includes address based data can be integrated with Google maps, seamlessly. The amount of information available and analyzable via Google Maps is ridiculous, and gets more ridiculous each day. Find U.S. Census Data. Find political contributions by party in your zip code. Check out the route through which your packages are being shipped, the potential damage caused by a nuclear blast, or the path of any hurricane ever.
You can even find all the members of Intrepid Media via Frapper - that is, if you all put yourselves in. C'mon. All the cool kids are doing it.
As the interface gets more robust, programmers get more creative. People have even begun to develop rudimentary games based on Google Maps. Brewster Jennings Protects America might feel a little like a limited version of Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?, but that doesn't change the fact that someone had the ingenuity to write it! Find the landmark can be incredibly difficult (big hint: bob is somewhere in France), but is a excellent example of what's possible with the API. Until very recently there was an GoogleMaps version of Risk that was good enough that it got cease-and-desisted by Hasbro.
From here, things can only get better. I envision a world in which you can play Civ, online, with real satellite maps of the globe.
I envision your cell phone with a combination of Google Maps and GPS positioning, so that when you're trying to find your friend downtown you can glance at a map and see exactly, in real time, her position in comparison to yours.
I see a time in which you will be driving in your car and say out loud, "How far away is that French restaurant I bookmarked last week?" to have your car do an instant search, calculate your position, and have the answer to you in seconds.
"2.3 miles away; 3.4 miles would avoid a construction delay. Would you like directions now?"
"Turn left at the upcoming stoplight."
The future, with all of its gleaming plastic white curves, lies nearby, and the directions are available on Google Maps.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
1.18.06 @ 8:57a
Some of the areas are so out of focus they're useless. Go to Live Oak FL and you'll see what I mean. (Unless they've cleared it up by now.)
1.18.06 @ 9:03a
Yeah, unfortunately you're kinda limited to the quality of the satellite photos publically available.
The house where I grew up (northern Maine) is also just a blur, but they get new satelitte pictures in all the time. You never know.
Also worth checking out: Windows Local Live. Clearly a Google Maps ripoff, and not as robust external-application-wise, but some of the satelitte photos are truly superior.
1.18.06 @ 9:11p
I want the gig of the auto-instruct voice.
Is this just a big coup on Google's part? Did they hone in on these things long before anyone else, or did they get these things by default?
1.18.06 @ 9:11p
1.19.06 @ 11:02a
Well, I don't know about coup.
They had a good idea for their maps, I think partnering with Keyhole, and when they put the technology out on the internet and started getting hacked instead of trying to punish all the hackers said - hold on - this might be useful - "Don't hack it - here's how to do it right." and opened up their API to public use.
You do have to register a key with Google Maps to use their stuff, so they know of all the uses of their application and won't allow use that isn't registered with them.
Mostly I think they benefit from the fact that geeks like them.
1.24.06 @ 3:15p
Oh my Sweet Jesus Gates, did Erik just prop a M$ site? Who knew living in the end times would be so bizarre?
But Google, Google is a heaping platter, nay, banquet of steaming bloody high-grade evil!
Someday soon, when you can type in my address, put the cursor over my house and trigger a drop down with my search history on it, you'll agree. Korean penis enlargement pills? WTF?
1.24.06 @ 3:35p
Are you drunk again?
1.25.06 @ 2:32p
No, I was logged on at an airport during my return trip and suffering the ordinary post-trip flame-out.
Anyway, Google's motto is "You can make money without doing evil" or some such, so I was playing off that. And today, in their most recent of many evils, they belabor their own motto even more.
Censor search results to help the Chinese gov't oppress its people, but refuse to give the FBI one week of anonymous search results to help fight pedophilia... It's all good to them, I guess.
1.25.06 @ 2:41p
I think you're simplifying issues.
I was asking because I think I was calling Windows Local Live a ripoff to the superiority of Google who, I continue to believe, is fundamentally non-evil.
I also think they're fundamentally non-political which is why they've refused the FBI inquest and refused to fight with China's government merely to provide a search engine.
1.30.06 @ 11:39p
If they were non-political, though, they wouldn't have run Move On's Anti-Delay ads while rejecting the RNC's pro-Delay ads, would they?
1.31.06 @ 10:15a
And political or not, Google is the entity that links your personal info with your searches and emails, all the Fed is asking for are anonymous statistics.
1.31.06 @ 10:35a
Well, of course.
You don't think anybody who has all that information throws it away, do you?
It's up to you, the internet user, to protect yourself.