Google Maps is the most prevalent map service available today. Their routine updates to the public website constantly adds new features that go well beyond “where is this place?”. The reason they have become the go-to map service lies elsewhere. Their application program interfaces (APIs), the language that apps use to talk to each other, have pushed Google into a majority of website and mobile apps. One of our favorite things about Google Maps is the fun, and sometimes useful, lesser-known features of the service.
Lesser Known Features
While most people know about Google Maps and use it frequently for doing searches for “pizza near me”, one of the most-searched phrases for 5 years running, there are a lot of cool and fun things going on in the Google Maps world. Sometimes, while in the middle of hacking up our own maps software for MySLP and WPSLP, we get sidetracked discovering one of the many tidbits Google leaves lying around. We find some of these side trips most interesting such as exploring planets, checking out 3D views of Earth, and zooming in on satellite view in our own mini-version of “What On Earth?”.
Maps Of Space
Yes, you can even explore space with Google Maps. There are plenty of cool places they’ve mapped with a little help from NASA and international space agencies. One of our favorites includes the International Space Station with its 360-degree view from inside one of the pods. How cool is that?
Some of the other places on the Google Maps “Interplanetary Exploration” list include Venus, Mars, and Europa. You’ll find a half-dozen planets and a dozen moons or other extra-terrestrial objects on the list. We’re anticipating Google will add driving directions to these places in another decade-or-two, once Elon Musk gets SpaceX on routine runs back-and-forth to Mars.
Time Travel With Google Maps
Another lesser-known feature of Google Maps is the ability to see how a place changed over time. The feature, dubbed “Time Travel” by some Google insiders, is available in Street View mode. Open Google Maps, and drag “stick man” onto the map to get a street-level view of the area. For places on the map that have a historical record of photos available to Google you will see a clock icon that allows you to view the location in the past.
You’ll find Time Travel for the Freedom Tower in New York City, Onagawa Japan,the World Cup Stadium in Brazil ,as well as the roads of Emilia in Italy. I was personally hoping for a time machine of Machu Picchu, but no such luck. However, you can check out some great views of Machu Picchu today.
Another cool find, fitting for an October post, is Google’s list of Most Haunted Places In America. Apparently if you are afraid of ghosts, the Northwest is a great place to relocate. If you’re going out trick-or-treating this year these are some places you may want to avoid, or go out-of-your-way to visit, depending on how adventurous your spirit is. We were hoping to see photos of these places on Google Maps, but apparently that has not been added yet. Maybe in a future version.
Have some favorite features you’d like to share? Let us know!