What is going on at Google? I think the company is planning to take over the Internet. Normally, I'd say that might be a bad thing; but in Google's case, they seem to be doing a darned good job of developing new services! The latest example is Google Maps.
I've always been fascinated by maps and, in recent years, by GPS satellite navigation and related topics. When MapQuest came out, I found myself using it often (MapQuest has been the major provider of online U.S. street maps on the Internet.) I have also checked out other online mapping services whenever I heard of them, but always went back to MapQuest. Now Google has created an online map service that I find is easier to use than MapQuest. It marries map technology and online telephone directories to Google's popular search engine service.
My own experience with the new service illustrates its usefulness. I am attending a genealogy conference in Portland, Maine, next month and need a hotel room. I went to http://maps.google.com and entered "hotels in Portland, Maine" in a query box. About two seconds later, a map of downtown Portland appeared on my screen with pointers to every hotel there. The conference hotel was one of those listed; so, it was super simple to see all the other hotels within walking distance.
All I had to do was click on a hotel name, and a pop-up window appeared, offering more information about that hotel, including a link to the hotel's own web site. One more click on that link, and I was looking at rates and availability information on the hotel's web site (not on Google).
A few minutes later I got to thinking about lunch, so I went back to Google Maps and entered "pizza in" followed by my ZIP code. A map appeared, listing all the pizza places within five miles or so, along with street addresses and telephone numbers of each. This is about as easy as it can get. Need to find a dentist in a hurry? Use the same sort of command: enter "dentist in " followed by your ZIP code. I even narrowed it down a bit by typing "dentists near" followed by my street address and then by my zip code. This shows all the dentist offices within a very few miles. I found that I could do the same for flower shops, gas stations, or Wal-Mart stores (enter "Wal-Mart near" and then your ZIP code).
OK, here is the fun part: I entered "genealogy near" followed by my ZIP code, and a map was displayed, showing 10 locations of genealogy interest. The locations included the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston, the Federal Records Center in Waltham, the American French Genealogical Society in Rhode Island, the nearest Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints-Family History Center, a genealogy store, and several professional genealogists, including two I had never heard of before.
I was a bit disappointed with one genealogy-related search that I tried. I wanted to find the location of a specific cemetery in Corinna, a small town in central Maine. I entered the cemetery's name followed by "Corinna, Maine." Nothing was found. Then I entered "cemeteries near Corinna, Maine." A listing appeared, but it looks like only cemeteries that have listed telephone numbers. The small cemetery I was looking for apparently does not qualify. I will concede, however, that the search results included the Corinna town office, and I know that a telephone call there will elicit the information I seek. When I did a search for "cemeteries near Dexter, Maine" (an adjacent small town), I was pleasantly surprised to see the Dexter Historical Society listed as a resource.
Google Maps has numerous other options for finding information. Right from the home page at http://maps.google.com, you can find a specific address, obtain driving instructions from one location to another, and more. I asked for driving directions from my ZIP Code to a ZIP Code in Salt Lake City, Utah. About three seconds later, turn-by-turn driving instructions appeared on screen for the 2,364-mile trip. Unlike most competitive services, Google Maps allow you to zoom in as well as pan in all directions, all by dragging with a mouse.
There is still more to Google Maps, but I suggest you go to this new service and try it for yourself. Make sure you place the mouse over a map, click and hold the mouse button, and then drag things around. Neat stuff!
You can find Google Maps at http://maps.google.com.
Now, on to Internet domination!