Google Maps: A classic case of value added

Google maps as maps just aren’t that great. They don’t include a scale, and lifestyle landmarks like schools and gyms are not marked. For Melbourne, the local knowledge that goes into streetdirectory.com.au makes that a much better map, and whereis gives better directions with more options.

However, Google Maps is something special for four reasons:

  1. In the bad old days, many map publishers (for example Wises in New Zealand) required you to pay to look at their online maps. Once Google Maps was launched, that business model no longer worked for them because people are unlikely to pay for what they can get for free. So now, not only can you look at Google Maps for free, but many other maps as well.
  2. The integration into search results, while it is cross-promotion for Google, is also really useful when you’re looking up a business. For me, living in Melbourne without a car, it is important to know a business I select is near the transport network, and the recent integration of maps into search results lets me do that.
  3. It’s everywhere. It might not be so easy to find a really good maps site in another country, especially if that country has a different national language or uses another character encoding. Tony points out that it is even good in Japan’s notoriously complex address system.
  4. The thing that really makes Google Maps stand out is the photographs. While I agree with Sara that they are a little bit scary, I also really enjoyed looking at the places I have lived, and worked, and the places that are important to me. I also like all the weird and wonderful artworks that have come out of Google looking down from the sky at us, like the man shaped lake in Brazil. Some things seen by Google’s eyes in the sky are beautiful, and some of them are odd, surprising, and ultimately controversial, but it certainly has brought a different view of earth to the average internet-connected human being.

Each of those four things is value added over a traditional map, and even over many other online maps — they give the user that little something extra that makes it worthwhile coming back. For me, the real selling point is the photos, though: they take something that is a tool, and essentially boring, and make it fun.

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