April 05, 2005

Follow the thin semitransparent blue line

It's been bouncing around the net, but if you haven't seen it, you need to go check out Google Maps. I am, frankly, in awe of this software. Their user interface is incredible. You can switch back and forth between map view---which is already better than mapquest or any print media out there---and satellite view, which for major metro areas is of sufficiently high resolution that you'll be able to see your car in your driveway.

But, this user interface! First of all, it's drawn well and antialiased, which makes it a helluva lot easier to read. It includes neither too many roads and town names nor too few; zooming in will show you more. Movement can be accomplished by arrow keys or by dragging a location from where it is to where you want it; double-clicking puts it in the middle. All of this is as responsive as dragging a window around your desktop. Rather than a flat star to mark the location in question (and obscuring it), it draws a "pin" that only intrudes by a few pixels at the location, with its head further up (and casting a shadow). There is a little speech balloon also, which prints the address and has links to get directions for it. The directions dialog goes within this balloon, without jarring you out into a different page.

Then, it shows the path with a blue line on the map (which has no other blue features). The map remains zoomable, so you can move around and see the questionable areas. And even while you're in directions mode, you can switch to the satellite view, zoomed in as close as you want, to see what the actual roads look like, still with the blue line showing you the route. And you can click on either endpoint pin to get a speech bubble with a zoomed-in map of just that part, while the main map stays zoomed out. And the zoomed map in the speech bubble can switch between map and satellite view, and zoom in and out, independently of the main window.

Google is like a case study in what to do right. I hope they stay good.

"I am happy, and you should be as well. Let us pray together with joy." --Pope John Paul II, on his deathbed

Posted by blahedo at 2:12pm on 5 Apr 2005
Comments
I spent far too much time last night looking at the satellite pictures of places that I know. That is really amazing. Another amazing thing is how thoroughly we become trained by bad interfaces. I was extremely frustrated at first with the inability to recenter the map. I discovered that you can just drag it around by accident. Then I had the joy of watching the same situation play out for Kelly. Maybe we broke it, I can't get satellite pictures this morning. Posted by lee at 7:30am on 6 Apr 2005
I agree with Lee about the user interfaces this. I know from personal experience writing software that's it's not that hard to break apart addresses, yet I always accepted having to tab around the forms on Yahoo! Maps and Mapquest. It's a wonderful feeling on Google to just type on one line 123 anystreet ave, anytown, il and have it find the address. Posted by Chris Tessone at 10:33am on 6 Apr 2005
Part of the suckiness of yahoo! and their ilk is the unwillingness to ever retrive an image that they don't need to. This is why they snidely ask, "Do you mean Clark Drive?" when that is the only Clark that is anywhere near the town in question. Google has said sod that, we are going to have the hardware to make this work right. Instead of using a sucky interface to drive down the image retrieval per ad shown ratio like the rest, Google is counting on their awsomnality to attract eyeballs and relevant ads to drive up click throughs. Cultivating a reputation for integrity is essential because it leads people to trust the ads presented by Google. Because of their reputation, people are less likely to expect to get an attack of popups and spyware when they click on an ad presented by google. Posted by lee at 10:35pm on 7 Apr 2005
If anything, it doesn't seem to have /enough/ street names for my tastes, especially at the closer zoom levels. This makes it hard for me to just look at the map and figure my way around, forcing me to use the directions feature, of which I am always skeptical. Otherwise, though, I agree. A+ on the UI. Posted by Chelsea at 10:21am on 8 Apr 2005
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