Map rage: Navigating Google’s revised way-finding system

It wasn’t broken, Google. Why did you have to fix it?

The last time I wrote about Google Maps was to praise the way-finding system, comparing it favorably to Apple’s much-derided mapping system.


That was then. This is now: The version of Google Maps now showing up on my desktop PC is fuzzy and slow. And those are its best qualities.

I’ve used Google Maps for years. It’s my job. I know how to switch to the satellite view, to get traffic, to make my own maps, to use the little man to find street views and to find directions for car trips, transit, biking and walking. I do this every day. Sometimes, I use Google Maps to illustrate blog postings.

So, I didn’t just discover the Google machine yesterday.

Still, I find the recently introduced map version difficult to use. And before I rant on, let me share with you the way to restore the classic view. Look for the “?” in the lower right corner of the new map. Click on that. You’ll see “Return to classic Google Maps.” Click that. Mission accomplished.

I feel better already. But on my PC screen now, I’m trying to isolate what I’ve found most annoying by doing a side-by-side comparison of the new and classic versions, using different browsers.

The new version is not as sharp. I attribute this to shading and typeface. Communities, secondary roads and place names don’t stand out as well as they did in the classic.

The thing that bothers me most is the new version of Directions. I give my starting and end points. Then I get a condensed version of the turn-by-turn directions. Why? I’m not driving a condensed route. I have to go the whole way. So I find the immediate results of a Directions search easier to absorb in the classic version.

Getting a tightly formatted printout to bring along in the car has so far eluded me, though I do appreciate the new version telling me how many printer pages I’ll be using for the results.

This isn’t just an old guy grumble. Our frequent commenter 1995hoo pointed out a conversation about the maps on the AARoads forum. The commenter included a warning about the language I would encounter there from travelers who are reacting as I did.

But even if you just stick to Google Maps, you’ll find evidence of what I’m talking about. When I switched back to the classic version, Google asked me to take a survey on what I found not to like about the new style.

Now, good on them for requesting the feedback, but they’ve clearly heard enough to make this a multiple-choice survey:

Please tell us why you did not like the new Google Maps (select all that apply).
The new Google Maps…
Does not display maps correctly
Doesn’t support features I use
Crashes my browser
Crashes my computer
Is too slow
Has low image quality

There’s also an “other” category, where I wrote in my complaint about the directions.

But the categories above reflect much of what you’ll find in the AARoads forum and at other online sites where the new version is under discussion.

I’m still willing to believe it’s just me, and that with a little more practice, I’ll discover a new world of options in the new version. What say travelers who have had more experience with this?

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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