If you use mapquest, read this

I can see it playing out like a movie. The head muckety-muck over at Google emails the big cheese over at mapquest. The mail says, simply “Good morning. I believe I’ve just put you out of business. No hard feelings.” The big cheese at mapquest runs home, only to be found by his wife later that evening, curled up in a corner, shivering, sobbing, and talking to himself. You must see Google Maps.

Those who know me well know that I’ll generally avoid using Microsoft tools if I can. However, I must say that Microsoft MapPoint is the finest product Microsoft makes, and I’ve found it very useful on a number of occasions. For me to say that about a microsoft product speaks volumes for how good MapPoint really is. However, I believe Google Maps will render MapPoint useless as well. What’s so great about it? Glad you asked.

It’s almost MapPoint, but in a browser, which means if I’m in some random place away from home and without my laptop, and none of the internet cafes have the expensive MapPoint software installed, I can just type in a URL, and I’m on my way. But you can do that with mapquest, so where’s the beef?

Google has done some truly sick things with standard browser technology. If you open a browser, and go to maps.google.com, and type in your address, your basic map is returned – or so it would seem. Click somewhere on the map and drag. Notice how the map moves. This is an endlessly useful feature. Mapquest doesn’t have it, nor does Yahoo! maps, nor does anything else browser-based. This is great for navigating short distances, which I do a lot, being new to the area and not too familiar with the back roads where I live.

But wait! There’s more!

Anyone living in New Jersey is sure to relate to my frustration with maps of New Jersey. There are areas where so many major highways come together that, on a map, it looks like a clump of hair. These maps are, at best, impossible to read and navigate. The only way to really figure it out would probably be to get up in a helicopter and figure out which roads really go where….

So they did…

Well, sort of. Google maps has employed satellite technology to create maps made up completely of satellite images. Still looking at the map of your address? Up on the top right of that page, click “satellite”, and you’ll see a satellite image of your house, street, town, whatever.

You can only zoom in so far, mind you, but it’s plenty for getting down to the root of things if what you’re looking at is exit 13 of the New Jersey Turnpike or something equally weird. What’s more is that the satellite map acts just like the regular map, meaning you can drag it around and check things out. Can’t tell what you’re looking at? Flip back to the regular map to see the street names and such, and go back to the satellite image once you have your bearings.

Nice. Very nice. I’ve been praying that something would kill off mapquest for some time. I’ve never used mapquest and *not* gotten lost. I used Google maps to navigate, among other things, exit 13 on the new jersey turnpike just the other day, and I didn’t make a single wrong turn. Anyone who knows me also knows just how amazing that is.