Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Google Maps Geo Search Part 1/2

Update (Oct.16/07): Geo Search is evolving! check this post for an update. For note, the "User-created content" label used throughout this post has been changed to "Community maps" on Google Maps.

When you think of Searching on Google Maps, what do you think of? Do you think of searching for things like Pizza, or Flowers in your area? Do you think of searching for a street address, city/town name or maybe even a tourist hotspot or point of interest? These are all things you can search on Google Maps but the new "Geo Search" functionality that has been introduced to Google Maps is giving you new access to search for geographical information from across the "geo web" and making your Google Maps searches so much more valuable. Introduced back in the Spring (07), Google's geo search is integrated into both Google Maps and Google Earth and gives you the power to search across thousands of KML documents (think HTML pages for the geo web) as well as websites like Platial that have created KML versions of their content making it indexed and searchable (more on this in Part 2). It also searches the heaps of My Maps being created by Google Maps users each day.

Here's how to view geo search results on Google Maps:

- Visit Google Maps
- Enter your search term (Eg: windsurfing in San Francisco) then, Search Maps
- Red pins appear first - these are traditional Google Local Business results that you're used to seeing
- Scroll down to the bottom of the list and see the link titled: "See user-created content New!"
- Clicking this link brings you to a list of geo web search results
- Note that blue pins indicate user created content while red indicate Google Maps Local Business data.

..In this "windsurfing" example you'll notice content is pulled from a variety of "geo web" sources - VirtualGlobetrotting.com, KeyHole (Google Earth Community), Google (My Maps), Platial and various windsurfing websites. This means that for Google Maps mashups that have gone through the process to make their content available in KML format (more on this in Part 2 of this post), their information is now searchable right from within Google Maps using this new geo search feature!

Examples of how Geo Search can help you:

Combine Google Maps local business search with user-created content - Using the above example, find a world renowned windsurfing hotspot such as "Windsurfing Heaven" in San Francisco, then match it up with local businesses that might rent you gear in that location. Searching user-created content will also allow you to fill gaps or missing locations in the existing Google Maps local business search.

International Business Searching - As Google Maps continues to roll out new local data (streets/roads and business search), geo search exists as a way to search for businesses in locations where no local business search even exists. For example, say you're looking for a hotel in Montego Bay, Jamaica - a search reveals 97 hotels for that region, all from user-created content. Bangkok, Thailand or Mumbai, India hotel searching will also help you find a hotel and match it up with street mapping that exists for India and Thailand, where local search isn't yet possible.

Create your own Map from geo search results - Among the options from within each geo search result is the ability to save that particular location to your own Google My Map (Directions and Search Nearby are the other options). This lets you build your own map of all the results you find, from many searches. This might help you build a travel itinerary or an event map.

Search for Outdoor Activities - For example, when planning your next trip to Toronto, searching for "Roller Blading Toronto" will reveal several placemarks along the Lakeshore Trail that, which from my own personal experience, is a perfect location to skate! Since typical local business searches don't reveal free, outdoor activities (that locals are contributing) Google's geo search is a perfect way to look for things where you live or a place you might be visiting (such as hiking, biking, jogging etc..).

Points of Interest Searching - This is fun.. enter a point of interest you might be visiting, no matter how obscure and take a look at what users are saying in their My Maps or photo posts. You might notice a high concentration of places to to go to take a great photo or observe a feature that the guides don't call out to you. Another search term John Hanke suggested in his inaugural Lat-Long Blog post is "Jerry Seinfeld New York" which reveals real locations from the fictional tv series. Fun to add to your NYC travel itinerary if you're a fan. Quick Tip: For locations with thousands of results (eg: Big Ben), be sure to "see all results" to get your "user-created" content option.

[See Part 2: Google Maps Geo Search]
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