Technology: Google Goes Local
|by Dan Giancaterino
Summer 2006, Vol. 69, No. 2
Quick ... Do you know where the closest notary is? Whats the neighborhood like around the Wyndham Franklin Plaza Hotel? Is there parking near the Wilma Theater? You can answer these kinds of questions using a variety of local search and mapping tools available from Google, MSN, Yahoo! and other Web services.
Search-engine owners know that when people search for a product or service, they want local information. Local search sites also provide their owners with the opportunity to display paid advertisements. (Right now, online ads account for close to ninety-nine percent of Googles revenue.)
Google Maps is the best known of these services. It features business listingsobtained from Googles crawl of the Web and combined with commercial Yellow Pages dataalong with maps and satellite images for United States cities. The satellite images are one to two years old, depending on the city. Until late last year, Philadelphias dated from early 2002. Now the Center City area appears to be from 2003 to 2004.
To find a Center City notary, simply type notary 19103. Relevant businesses will be displayed on the left-hand side of the pageyes, the ubiquitous Google ads are there, tooand plotted on a map on the right. You can zoom in or out and switch from map view to satellite image. The hybrid view overlays map elements such as street names and directions on the satellite images. Driving directions are also available.
Google released the Application Programming Interface (API) for its maps service last summer. Since then, talented hackers have created interesting and useful mashups by overlaying other types of data on Google Maps. For example, HousingMaps.com combines information on houses for rent or sale from craigslist.org with Google Maps. Zillow lets you search for a property and view it on a satellite image map, along with comps, comparable recently sold homes. They even provide a Zestimate, which allows you to compare a homes estimated value to the asking price. For more mashups, visit GoogleMapsMania.
Google Maps does have imagery for cities in in other countriesI was able to zoom in on my mother-in-laws house in Somersham, England, for examplebut for best results, download Google Earth. This free program lets you fly to any location in the worldsome places have better resolution than othersand look for local attractions, tilt and rotate the view and even save and share your trips with others. Youll need Windows 2000/XP or Mac OS X to run Google Earth.
You can also access Google from your cell phone. Simply send a text message to 46645 (GOOGL). In less than thirty seconds youll receive a text message back with the desired information. Imagine youre standing outside your favorite restaurant in Manayunk. Youve been told that theres a two-hour wait for a table. You whip out your cell phone and text Google with the query restaurant manayunk. In a few seconds, you get a text message back with some names, addresses and phone numbers. (No satellite images or maps, sorry.) Your date isnt ruined after all! Yahoo (92466) and 4info (44636) offer similar services.
MSNs Windows Live Local is similar to Google Maps, but features 45-degree-angle Birds Eye images for more than twenty U.S. cities, including Philadelphia. The images are also at least one to two years old. Its a beta (test) product, so it can be flaky at times.
To scope out the area around a local hotel, type Wyndham Franklin Plaza in the What box and Philadelphia, PA in the Where box. When the map loads, zoom in until you see a yellow box with the caption, There is Birds Eye imagery available for this location. Click on the box. Once the birds-eye view is loaded, you can click on the compass to rotate the image or click on one of the nine thumbnails to move to a different area of the neighborhood. Satellite imagery is also available via the aerial link.
If you want to know what other people have discovered in Windows Live Locals imageryaircraft, landmarks, whatevervisit Birds Eye Tourist. Theres one for Google Maps, too, Google Siteseeing.
Want more satellite imagery? Ask.com, formerly Ask Jeeves, has a Maps service with animated driving directions so that you can drive the route from, say, your house to BWI Airport. Yahoo Maps Beta features live traffic conditions that can be superimposed on satellite imagery. That way you can determine whether youll encounter construction, road or lane closures or congestion on the way to BWI. Finally, NASA World Wind and TerraFly both let you zoom in on any place on Earth.
A9.com Maps features BlockView street-level images of two dozen U.S. cities, including Philadelphia andgo figure!Fargo, North Dakota. Currently the images date from 2004 to 2005. A9.com is owned by Amazon.com, which also owns Alexa Web Search, the Internet Movie Database, and funds 43 things.
To check out the parking situation at the Wilma, type 265 S Broad St, Philadelphia, PA. You must search by address. If you want to search by name, visit A9s Yellow Pages. You can walk up and down both sides of the street by mousing-over the BlockView image thumbnails in the lower right-hand corner of the page. If you want to enlarge one, simply click on it. So is there parking near the Wilma? Yup, right next door.
Privacy advocates have expressed concerns about local mapping servicesaerial images are a great tool for stalkers, and A9.coms BlockViews often contain shots of unwitting pedestriansbut these services are here to stay. As Sun Microsystems Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy said a few years back, You have no privacy, get over it.
SITES MENTIONED IN THIS STORY Alexa Web Search A9.com Maps A9s Yellow Pages Ask.com Maps & Directions Birds Eye Tourist Craigs List 43 things Google Earth Google Maps Google Siteseeing Housing Maps Internet Movie Database Map mashups MSNs Windows Live Local NASA World Wind TerraFly Yahoo Maps Beta Zillow