Google Maps unveils new features

Google Maps unveils new features - Embedded maps, ‘Mapplets’ and a focus on local advertising

Google announced this week new features developed by its Australian R&D team which will soon make Google Maps more accessible to users.

Google Maps launched in Australia in February this year. Since then, the number of regular users has doubled to over 1 million Australians.

"Everyone looks at a map in a different way. We use maps in different ways too, and people expect different things," says Carl Sjogreen, a representative from Google.

Sjogreen made it clear the features Google released are to make information and content more accessible and personal, allowing the user to tailor it to their specific needs.

"Integration has been a big part of Google Maps," he said. "Integration has [in the past] been possible through the Google API for advanced users and coders".

Now embedded maps, made as easily as copying and pasting a few lines of HTML, can be placed on any web-page. It gives full map controls, so you can, for example, move to another location and zoom in and out, while staying on the current page.

The integrated service is to launch next week, Sjogreen said.

Using the 'Mapplets' service, Web sites can upload their data and have it integrated with Google Maps. Sjogreen gave several examples, such as showing the pricing of petrol in a given area and finding the cheapest one, or seeing pictures of a holiday location you plan on going to while planning the route.

And on the topic of route planning, Google Maps now has a new feature: generating routes. By typing 'Sydney to Melbourne', a blue line will run between the two cities. It is then possible to modify the route by dragging anywhere along the line to another location. Directions that are generated automatically change to match the modified route.

Advertising opportunities with Google continue to grow, with a focus on local advertising through Google Maps. When a user searches on maps.google.com.au, 'sponsored links' show up at the top of the results list which are highlighted in a different colour, and have a special logo on the map.

"Advertisers have been very excited with these features," Sjogreen said.

It's free for a business to register on Google Maps, with a listing of a phone number and street address.

"They hope to convert online traffic into something like foot traffic through their doors," Sjogreen said. "[We are] Integrating local business into a global search engine," he said.

Additionally, shabby businesses will need to shape up, as a new review feature will be added to Google Maps, where a user can post a blurb on their experience and the quality of the service.

According to Sjogreen, the review feature enriches the experience and helps users.

"In the past we aggregated reviews from other websites," he said. Now the users can contribute directly and share information of their experiences'.

He mentioned that there are more than enough review sites on the Net and people are skeptical enough now of negative reviews.

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Ash Lawrenz

PC World

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