New Google Map App Lets Users Chart Their Own Course

Google has unveiled a way for users of its popular Maps application to create and share maps they make themselves, creations that can include all sorts of digital content including videos, text and photos.

The new Google My Maps tab, found on the Google Maps page, simplifies the integration of user-created maps with other media such as photos and video. Other companies offer similar applications that work with Google Maps, but many of them are designed for experts, while Google’s tries to keep it simple.

“Creating a map is easy,” reads the new Google site. The first step, after logging into Google Maps is to click on “My Maps > Create new map.” From there, users can add titles and descriptions and decide whether the map will be public or “unlisted.” Using icons, map-makers can select placemarks, lines and shapes to add to their maps.

Sights and Sounds

To make their creations really interesting and informative, users can also embed Rich Text or HTML descriptions, photos (as long as they are hosted online) and Google Video or YouTube videos.

“Once a map has been created, users can share the map with family and friends, or make it available to anyone trawling the World Wide Web by making it public,” says Google.

There currently is no search function for My Maps, but a Google representative reportedly promised such a capability will be added within a month.

To demonstrate My Maps’ potential, Google has posted a number of innovative maps created by users, including “America’s Highway: Oral Histories of Route 66,” created by Jay Crim and Shekar Davarya who “spent the summer of 2002 driving across the country on Route 66, collecting interviews with the people who live, work and travel on the old road.”

The map includes virtual pushpins that when clicked lead viewers to audio, video and images that “offer a glimpse into what life was like on the now-decommissioned highway and what remains for those who still travel the road.”

Always Thinking

The unexpected rollout of My Maps is typical of the way Google sometimes surprises the public, Forrester Research Principal Analyst James McQuivey told TechNewsWorld. The fact that “you wake up one day” and there’s a new Google product is “both a blessing and a curse,” he said.

It’s a blessing because usually the new applications are useful, he explained, but it’s a curse because Google often unveils so much at once that some of the better new products go unheralded. Still, he believes there will be many people embracing and using My Maps.

“This answers a need for which people have used Google Maps for a long time: Telling others how to get to a party at your house on Friday night,” McQuivey noted. “People have been doing this in other ways. They copy an image from either MapQuest or Google Maps, throw it in a Word document and then add notes. So this is definitely a user-focused addition to the Maps function.”

Word of Mouth

Because it’s easy and fun, My Maps should spread quickly, said McQuivey. “One of the things Google knows very well is the best advertiser is someone who is on the ground,” he said. “It’s word of mouth. To the extent they can enable people to spread the word about particular things, the more valuable Google becomes in the advertising equation.”

Innovative business owners will use My Maps to add maps “with much more functionality” to their Web sites, McQuivey predicted.

There might be a danger of maps created by businesses overdoing it with sales content — one envisions a map to a car dealership that is embedded with video of salesmen stroking fenders. “It’s a question of how much advertising can people take,” Strategy Analytics analyst Mark Fitzgerald told TechNewsWorld. “Obviously, we are inundated with advertising.”

However, the benefits outweigh the risks, especially since My Maps is free, he noted. My Maps’ ability to add a human touch to maps should make it very valuable, since computer-generated maps too often lack or add too much detail and generally give directions less useful than those attained by just asking someone who knows the area, Fitzgerald added.

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