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June 1, 2011

Maps Online - Part I

Some may remember the days of going to the neighborhood gas station and getting a free map to plan your trip or if it was a trip farther away, writing and getting directions from the oil companies such as Sinclair, Esso, etc.  Well those days are long gone.  They have been replaced by online maps, GPSes and even smartphones.

For online mapping there are 4 primary websites: Bing Maps, Google Maps, MapQuest and Yahoo Maps.  Bing Maps, MapQuest and Yahoo Maps will be covered in this blog.  Google Maps will be covered in a future blog.

Bing Maps is the new map on the block comparatively speaking.  The map allows you to get directions for driving, walking or public transportation.  It also is easy to send the directions to your email or cell phone.  You can get directions based upon current real time traffic conditions though this is generally limited to the major thoroughfares. Directions do note at the end of the route if you have reached a certain location that you have gone too far which is a nice touch.  The "What's Nearby" feature is also useful.  I found it easy to zoom in and out using the road view and arial view.  Where it has already been photographed, the Streetside view has clear pictures an certainly clearer than the heralded Google Maps. However when moving along the street in Streetside view there is not an indication of about where you are.  I do like the 3D views with which you can rotate/pan and zoom functions. That said, it is relatively slow to open and also to go from view to view as well as going to the location you choose.  There is certainly room for improvement here.  Also if you wish to reverse your route after you have gotten directions, you need to go back to the search page. This is not a good thing.

MapQuest has a lot of the features that the others have with 1 notable exception. You cannot use your scroll wheel to zoom in and out on the map. You can only get directions by car.  No walking, public transit, etc. directions can be obtained using MapQuest.  It has a street view known as 360 view but the areas available are relatively few and slower than expected.  I did not find 360 view to be user friendly. Like the others, there is a way to search for businesses in the area.  MapQuest has a drop down menu of choices or you type your own in the search bar under "Find a Business".  A real good feature of MapQuest when searching for directions is you can get turn by turn directions if you wish.  This and Google Maps are the only ones of the 4 maps where you can do this.  Bing Maps allow you to go to the text indicating the turns and click to go to the location on the map but MapQuest's turn by turn directions is preferred.

Yahoo Maps offers live traffic and a points of interest finder.  It also computes a route rather quickly.  Yahoo Maps is better used to computing a route by car. There is not a way to determine a route by other means.  Yahoo Maps is also the only map that I am reviewing that does not have any drop down menu for locating businesses. Google Maps does have a very limited one which is stretching it a bit and will be covered in a future blog as noted earlier. You also can use it to find a business along the map that is showing on the screen.  This is done by typing the category in the search bar under "Find a Business on a Map".  It is more of a no frills map to mainly be used for directions by auto and finding a business.  There is no street view like in Bing Maps or Google Maps.  Further you cannot get a map for turn by turn directions or click on the text directions to go to that part on the map.

One final note here.  All 4 maps allow you to click to change a route by dragging any part of the route.

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