Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A quick note on the Google magic

My last post got me thinking about how much I love Google Maps, and about Google's magic. People have talked a lot about Apple's magic: its ability to execute consumer products at a really high level and get people to accept or even embrace their limitations. Google's magic seemed to me a little more mysterious.

Google didn't invent online maps, but Google Maps was a revelation. Mapquest was a specific tool. You punched in your starting and destination addresses, and it gave you pretty good directions and a pretty good map. It ushered you through a few specific processes. Google Maps was an open book. Back then the start page for Mapquest didn't have a map on it. Google Maps opened to a map of the continental USA (from the US domain). And you could drag the map around, and zoom in to your location. You could view the whole world at once, look at the individual streets in your neighborhood, or any level in between (as long as you were OK with the Mercator projection). And above that was a text box that you could type anything into. It accepted text in specific formats, and really couldn't do anything Mapquest couldn't, but that wasn't the point. You'd never lose yourself in Mapquest. I did it routinely in Google Maps.

I think Maps is really the clearest example of the Google magic. Google wasn't the first search engine, wasn't the first web mail provider, wasn't the first to provide source code hosting, wasn't the first web ad broker. It's really changed the landscape in all these areas, but Maps seems to me the purest example of the magic. Where the reason for its superiority is so clear, and clearly a result of philosophy, not execution.


Danielle in Iowa in Seattle said...

Although I will say that I use Google Maps more and more because of the bus and biking directions, I never use it for driving directions. So yes, I can get lost, playing around with Google Maps, but they need to get a better algorithm for their direction mapping for driving. Garmin and Mapquest both use the same product for this function.

Al Dimond said...

I agree that Google's route generation leaves something to be desired... though I'd apply that to its bike directions as well.

Google might actually give good bike directions in a hilly city like Seattle. In flat, griddy Chicago it really "overthinks" things, but in Chicago it's easy to come up with your own routes anyway.