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Stuff You Didn’t Know About: Google Maps

Updated on November 25, 2012

One of the greatest inventions since the advent of the internet has been Google Maps. Before Google Maps, all we had to guide us were those awkward/unreliable GPS devices, paper maps and/or a compass. Before that, there was nothing but the stars.

I remember driving my first road trip in the 1990's. While navigating a particularly convoluted highway I realized that I had missed my exit and needed to consult the laminated map in my glove compartment for support. As luck would have it, there wasn't a shoulder to pull safely onto. This factor forced me to drive several miles out of my way to the nearest exit. Finally, after safely parking, I began struggling to figure out exactly where I was on the map, as well as find the best way to get back to my correct exit. If the smart phone and Google Maps had been invented at the time, I would have saved an hour of wasted time and hundreds of hairs from going gray.

Now that Google Maps exists, it's time to get the most out of it. Here are some facts and features about Google Maps you might not have been aware of previously.

Public Alerts

Public alerts provide warnings of a pending weather event or disaster. If you search specific criteria such as “hurricane”, “tsunami”, “tornado info” or “earthquakes” the result will issue an automatic warning. You will also receive information on nearby shelters or the extent of the damage already being experienced in other areas. This additional warning system can be crucial in understanding just how much danger is coming your way and will allow you a few precious extra minutes to prepare.

Google Maps Meet WebGL

This feature isn't that great because it requires a special graphics card to be installed in order to use it. However, if you are game to use it, WebGL provides a 3-D photo tour and flyover aerial view at a 45 degree angle. It also allows you to seamlessly “swoop” down from the map image into Street View without a plugin. If you are in the market for a richer graphics experience in your map searching, WebGL is for you. (Sorry, there isn't a screenshot available. Checkout the video.)


Indoor Google Maps

This is really cool. First of all, with Google Maps for Android you can now get the lay of the land indoors at your local casino, shopping mall or airport. This feature is only available in selected locations, but you also have the option upload a specific floor plan you think might be helpful to others. Along with this great feature, Google has also teamed up with many major tourist sites to create online virtual tours. You can actually take a 360 degree walking tour of the White House and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (to name a few) in just a few clicks! (Take the Tour of the White House Here)

A New Way to Tour the White House


Other Great Google Maps Features

  • Traffic – See up-to-date traffic conditions.
  • Photos – View thousands of photos taken from locations around the United States and around the world.
  • Weather – See the latest weather conditions and local forecasts or browse weather from around the world.
  • Web Cams – See images taken within the last hour by web cams from around the world.
  • Create a Custom Map – Want a map that highlights all your neighborhood has to offer? You can create a personalized map to include local businesses and attractions near you, plan a vacation, or save bike routes just by clicking the “My Places” button and then “Maps”.

Street Views

How do they do it? It’s simple. I’m sure you all have seen the Google Car in your area at some point. Most urban areas are available to be seen in Street View. If you didn't know about it before, try looking up an address. If there is an image in the left corner to go along with the map that means you can view the address in Street View. To access Street View, simply zoom in until the map changes over to show an image of the actual building and surrounding area. Ever wonder how they photo every inch of space? Well, the car has a fifteen lens camera perched atop the roof that takes sequential pictures of the landscape which overlap. Later on, Google then aligns them and knits them together using special software that can hide the seams. The result is a 360 degree panoramic photo.

Photo Gallery of Features

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Live Web Cam View (screen shot)Photo View (screen shot)Traffic View (screen shot)Weather View (screen shot)Wikipedia Feature View (screen shot)Wikipedia Description (screen shot)You Tube Video View (screen shot)Sample Specialized Neighborhood Map (screen shot)
Live Web Cam View (screen shot)
Live Web Cam View (screen shot)
Photo View (screen shot)
Photo View (screen shot)
Traffic View (screen shot)
Traffic View (screen shot)
Weather View (screen shot)
Weather View (screen shot)
Wikipedia Feature View (screen shot)
Wikipedia Feature View (screen shot)
Wikipedia Description (screen shot)
Wikipedia Description (screen shot)
You Tube Video View (screen shot)
You Tube Video View (screen shot)
Sample Specialized Neighborhood Map (screen shot)
Sample Specialized Neighborhood Map (screen shot)


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