As part of its ongoing bid to rule the earth, Google wants to show it to you first -- one map at a time.
The popular search engine released its mapping function, Google Maps (www.maps.google.com), in February, and it didn't take long for independent programmers to start customizing the technology. By late June, Google even released a program making it easier to do so (www.google.com/apis/maps). The results, often called "mashups," combine existing data and Google Maps to create a new kind of interface, one that can pinpoint the location of everything from wineries and coffee shops to UFO sightings and possible love connections.
To get started, enter a location or an address in the search box on the Google Maps home page. When the map pops up, you can click on it, drag it up and down or side to side and zoom in and out, all without reloading the page. With the satellite photo view zoomed all the way in, you can literally see not just streets, but individual buildings. You can view the area as a street map, a satellite photo or -- with the hybrid view -- both.
Once you've found a particular city or neighborhood, you can enter new search criteria in the box at the top of the page. Type "pizza," for instance, and little red pins will pop up over the map, with the name and locations of all the pizza places listed on Google in the designated area. Type in "grocery" and you'll get supermarkets, "beer" and you'll get bars.
Mashups take this function to the next level, as programmers hack maps to display just about everything you can imagine. The blog Google Maps Mania (www.googlemapsmania.blogspot.com) is a good place to review the innovative ways people are using Google maps.
-- Paul J. Williams
Ways to Use Mashups
LEARN ABOUT AN AREA: With gas prices going through the roof, the Cheap Gas site (www.ahding.com/cheapgas) is a mashup must. It adds info from Gasbuddy.com to a map to help you find the lowest prices around. If you're looking to relocate, Housingmaps.com overlays Craigslist.com real estate listings on top of a Google map. It's sortable by price, and it gives prospective buyers or renters a great sense of location, location, location. Renters who want more info can go to Apartmentratings.com, which has added maps that color-code a building based on the quality of its rating. And if you need to know an area's hot spots for eats, D.C. Foodie blogger Jason Storch has put his restaurant reviews on a map (www.dcfoodies.com/reviewsonmap.html).
GET AROUND: The Metro map at Monkeyhomes.com (monkeyhomes.com/map/dcmetro.php) lays out Metro stops over a Google map, while Traffic.poly9.com combines Google Maps with Yahoo traffic info to display real-time traffic conditions. Gmaps Pedometer (www.sueandpaul.com/gmapPedometer) lets you plot points on a map and measure the distance from point to point. Its home page starts in Hoboken, N.J., but just type in Washington, Arlington or whatever town you need -- a great tool for joggers, or for just planning a tour when Aunt Ethel comes to visit. And here's a tutorial for saving Google Maps to an iPod Photo: homepage.mac.com/ianmeyer/PhotoAlbum17.html. Perfect for when you've gotten lost while rocking out to your hair band mix.
TRACE MEMORIES: Users of the photo Web site Flickr.com are creating memory maps. A memory map is a satellite photo from a Google map that someone has embellished with personal notes. (Need an example? Here's one for Catholic University: www.flickr.com/photos/kvknowsherfun/8717193/in/pool-memorymaps.) At Geobloggers.com, enter a Zip code to get longitude and latitude coordinates, then see Flickr photos that were taken at those coordinates.
GOOF OFF: Games on Google Maps (moloko.itc.it/trustmetricswiki/moin.cgi/GamesOnGoogleMaps) has options for amusement as well as suggestions for using the maps to play games such as Risk or Civilization. Currently up and running is Tripods (www.thomasscott.net/tripods), where you join with other players to fend off an attack on Manhattan and Scavengeroogle (www.bloglander.com/scavengeroogle/faq), which challenges you to interpret clues and find a location.
GET PERSONAL: Of course, if you're tired of playing games and are looking for a relationship, Google Maps can even help your love life. Find possible dates down to the Zip code with the Hot or Not and Google Maps mash (hotmaps.frozenbear.com). Finally, and this is if you're really bored, typing in "jerks" -- or worse -- over a map of the District brings up a list sure to offend partisans and true believers of every political stripe.