Always looking to expand their hold on the online information market, Google introduced the new beta version of their Google Maps program to the public earlier this month. Designed to produce an interactive map that users can easily zoom in or out on, the program has been fairly well received by the press.

The idea is to type in an address, or even just a city and Google produces a pretty spiffy map with the location marked with an image of a push pin. Users can zoom out as far as to the national level, or in close enough to see even a small cul-de-sac down the street from their chosen address. Google overlays the map with the names of streets and interstates, so finding your location is fairly easy.

Perhaps the niftiest feature of Google Maps is the ability to drag the map and make them interactive. There's no need to click arrows and wait for the page to reload with a slight shift in a particular direction. Instead, you can simply click on the map and drag your mouse to view a large portion of the map. Basically, Google Maps works just like a real map and lets you scan in any direction quickly and accurately.

The new Google Map program also ties in with Google's local search capabilities. Once you've entered an address or location and generated a map, you can type in a keyword to search for a business and Google will automatically mark the location of any results right on the existing map. A list of displayed businesses and their phone numbers shows up to the right of the map, providing links to further information about the results.

The program has several other capabilities, all of which make Google Maps well worth playing with. The thing I'm waiting for though, is the possible integration of Google's new map feature with Keyhole, a satellite based mapping system that Google acquired last fall. The program uses satellite imagery to create "fly-in" style map views of almost the entire planet. (How close a view you can get depends on the population of the area...) The images can be tilted and rotated and display topographical information as well as street name overlays on the images. The program is currently available as a subscription based download for around $30.

It would probably be easy enough for Google to integrate the new Google Maps with Keyhole, thus allowing users to toggle back and forth from a street map drawing to a satellite image photograph of the same area. With Amazon adding a photograph tour of some of the largest U.S. cities to their local business directory, a similar move by Google may not be far behind.

Users can beta test Google Maps or download a seven day free trial of Keyhole from the respective Web sites.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.
February 28, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Google Maps Offers New Take on Local Search Mapping