Saturday, 2 October 2010

Features I would like to see in Google Maps

I have been spending a little time recently playing with Google Maps, looking at new ways of representing walk data. It is a flexible system that allows many different methods of representing data.

Firstly I should say that the Google Maps API is very feature-rich, and it must be exceptionally hard for them to produce all the features that are requested from the multitude of users. My requirements are very different from, for example, the AA's route planner. Having said that, the features below are the things I would like to see:

1) Access to Ordnance Survey maps here in the UK, the 1:50,000 scale maps, but ideally the 1:25,000 maps. Britain has perhaps the best mapping in the world, and the maps Google uses are unfortunately a massively regressive step. I am interested in footpaths, and they are brilliantly detailed on OS Maps but are totally absent in Google Maps.

2) Dotted ploylines. A polyline is a multi-node line that can be overlaid on the map; I use them to represent my walks. I am having to represent ferry and alternative routes, which ideally would be represented by a dotted line. Unfortunately the API does not manage these. I could munge an overlay onto the map myself, but that is a complex task that could be much more easily handled as part of Google's code.

3) Polylines are clickable; i.e. a user can click on them to perform an action. There are also mouseover and mouseout events, which detail when the mouse moves into and out of the polyline. I wanted to produce an information bubble showing which walk the mouse is currently over. as the polyline mouseover event does not return a mouse position, then I have had to kludge this.

Because the API seems to be constantly changing, coding maps is constantly chasing a moving target. I particularly believe that item 3) will soon be implemented, meaning that I have done a fair amount of coding and testing for little effect. Still, better to chase a moving target than not having a target at all.

I have also had a look at Open Streetmap (OSM), the organisation producing open, free mapping of the entire world. So far, these are not particularly good enough, and nowhere near as good as OS Maps. I am currently considering if I should contribute data to the OSM project.

Microsoft has a similar system called Bing Maps. This is also an advanced system, but after weighing up the competitors I chose Google Maps. Fortunately it should be feasible to swap round to Bing Maps or another system if the need arises.

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