Route 66 Midpoint

Online Maps

June 2006

Long distance motorcycle riders have four basic means of routing and navigating their tours and timed runs: printed maps, online maps, GPS (Global Positioning System) devices, and if all else fails, asking for directions. Our focus this month is the second of these, online maps.

99% of all Internet users reference search engines to find what they are looking for on the World Wide Web, and the three most frequently accessed are

Type “online maps” into the search box of any of these, and hit the “Search” button. Within seconds you’ll be one click away from hundreds of web-based mapping and navigation resources. But as you may surmise after a little browsing, all major online map services generally rely on one of two companies to provide much of their digital mapping and road data content: Navteq or Tele Atlas. Here are five of their most prominent customers:

AOL Mapquest ( )

Mapquest was one of the first online map services, and is now a subsidiary of AOL. Like its parent company, Mapquest is not exactly keeping up with the Joneses technology-wise. As of this writing, for example, they are the only major online map service that has not incorporated satellite imagery or aerial photographs to augment their graphical maps. Maps & Directions ( )’s new online map technology trumps the competition by being first to offer a topical relief view as well as street (graphical) or aerial. Unfortunately, however, leading edge is often only a step away from bleeding edge. As The Map Room blogger Jonathan Crowe points out: “ relief maps have a significant flaw–one that the Dutch would certainly notice: any land below sea level is shown as being under water.”

Google Maps ( )

With the new Google Maps, and its related Google Earth “3D planet interface”, there can be no question that Google plans to use superior technology to come from behind and ultimately dominate the online map web segment just as they did with search engines. Google Maps views include Map, Satellite and Hybrid, and Google Earth’s imagery and interface are dazzling. But if you want to quickly and reliably locate convenient motels or 24-hour gas stations, you’d best look elsewhere … for now.

Windows Local Live (now Bing Maps) ( )

Microsoft’s Windows Local Live beta version sports road and aerial views along with a user interface that includes a scratch pad. The scratch pad I understood, but the rest of the interface had me scratching my head. You can use it to locate businesses and business categories, but it doesn’t find anywhere near as many as Yahoo! does. And I’m still trying to figure out how the hell to make it print. I think the Gates gang needs to trailer this puppy back to the garage and break out the tools.

Yahoo! Maps ( )

Yahoo! Maps offers logically ordered Map, Hybrid and Satellite views combined with an interface as intuitive and easy to use as its Classic Maps predecessor, which for now is just a reassuring click away. Getting directions from A to B is as simple as before, and their database of motels, restaurants, gas stations and other businesses along the way eclipses those offered by Google or MSN. And printing is a no-brainer.

Each of these online maps offers unique features with different twists, and I recommend you check out all five. But for me and for now, if I could use only one, it would be Google.

Until Next Time … Ride Long, Ride Free!