Thursday, April 05, 2007

Google Maps, My Maps: Needs Work

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a Google cheerleader. No skirts and pom-poms (a scary thought indeed!) but if's Google, I'm on it. Google Apps for Your Domain, Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Maps. I troll labs.google.com looking for something new before the world has seen it. And an article with Google in the title is going to catch my attention on MSNBC, News.com or Engadget. I even tried to get a job with Google when I first moved up here.

With the exception of Flickr, if Google has a version of something, I'm on it, even if I think a competitor has a better version. (Microsoft often makes interfaces confusing and slow and log-in a pain, or it requires you to bounce through seven servers before ending up at something.something.something.msn.com which typically doesn't work and leaves me having to type in the something.something.something.msn.com; Yahoo!, well, the name is enough for me to be turned off.)

But Google seems consistently excite and disappoint. It must be amazing working for a place where a portion of your time must be spent on pet projects. Innovation and great ideas abound. But Google also has a track record of shoving ideas out the door, mostly baked, and then letting them languish. The occasional new feature gets added and then "New Features" appears in red for six months, even though it's no longer new. (Suggestion: put the date in the link! Yeah, I'm talking to you, Google Calendar guys!)

Google has just released "My Maps" - a way to create a map (to share, or not share) with way points, lines and so forth, that you overlay on top of the map. For years now they've allowed you to display a map on your own site (here's one I did years ago for my church - just hit "Search" without typing in any fields and it'll center on the church).

But now they offering a new version for everyman use. It's connected to your Google user account and can be private or public. There's a large choice of "push-pins" (including symbols like tents and fishing and coffee cups) and you can draw shapes and lines in your choice of color and transparency. I can see this being really awesome for a city planner who wants to make a quick proposal on a parcel of land or street re-alignment. I can see a campground or park website using it to show where trails and parking and waterfalls are.

But, it has some shortcomings right out of the gate that I'm surprised no one else quickly coded before going live. To be sure, they could have them on a list, so as to wow us twice (wow, look what new features we've added!) but I hate that kind of tactic.

So, here's my list after a few minutes of playing with it.
1. No way to re-order the list of pushpins you've added.
2. No way to share authorship.
3. Still(!) no good connection to your Google Account contacts (hidden away in Gmail)
4. Lack of folders/tags to organize pushpins (state parks service example: to organize by park or by amenity type; or for my own use, restaurants I like by type of food)
5. How do I get back to see the featured calendars that were shown before I started creating my own? Seems like there needs to be a button up along with Traffic | Map | Satellite | Hybrid to show when public user content is available. Or a link appears on the left side where the search results would be. (But then that would require a left panel that could change dynamically like Live Local or Yahoo Maps beta.)

I realize, what right do I have telling some other company how to run their business or what features they should offer. Or to think my ideas are unique or that someone else doesn't have better ideas. Or that I need to remember that Google is still in beta. But the way Google operates seems to elicit collaboration and the spirit of innovation. But I suppose I'm not alone in thinking that and it must be hard to try to listen to everyone who thinks they have a great idea. But, it's a shame.

(Along those lines and completely unrelated except that I couldn't get Google or Microsoft or Lockheed interested in one of my other great ideas, so I submitted it to MIT's Digital City project. I wouldn't be surprised if they are actually able to run with it and possibly do something with it. And someone other than me will get fabulously wealthy. Oh well.)
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