Hack 2. Find Yourself (and Others) on Google Maps

Google Maps supports many ways to specify location.

Using addresses to find a place makes a lot of sense for places that have an address, but what do you do when you don't have an address? Fortunately for you, the Google Maps team has supplied a number of additional ways to find yourself.

I suspect that the goal is to create a system in which, if you can imagine a somewhat standard way of representing a location, then Google Maps will support it. The functionality is not quite there yet, but it does support a lot of ways of finding places. As with all of the hacks in this book, and as a general philosophy of life, experimentation is your friend!

The number one rule for finding places using Google Maps is that if there is a way of specifying location that makes sense to you, go ahead and try it! As we saw in "Get Around http://maps.google.com" [Hack #1], standard addresses work, but so does entering a city and state, or a ZIP Code alone. Street intersections also work, as long as you add a city and state.

You can also enter coordinates as latitude and longitude, like 38, -122, or 38 N, 122 W. Most modern people don't relate to latitude and longitude directly, but it is a compact and precise way to mark a location.

Google Maps is good at searching by business name. You can search by business name, city, and statefor example, "O'Reilly Media, Sebastopol, CA"with good results. Entering a business name and a city, or a business name and a state, brings up a list of possible matches.

The best Google Maps feature ever is the proximity search, at least for one of my friends, who is a vegetarian and travels a lot. Before Google Maps, he spent a lot of time on other map services planning for trips. A common query was for the closest Whole Foods Market in whatever city he was visiting. Now he can just type his query into the single search box: "whole foods market near Boston, MA." As long as he remembers to change Boston, MA to his current city, he is set. Table 1-1 shows examples of searches that do and don't work.

Table 1-1. The limits of Google Maps' understanding

Example

Works?

Description

1005 Gravenstein Highway N, Sebastopol, CA 95472

Yes

Full street address works great.

79th St and Broadway, NY 79th St and Broadway, 10024

Yes

Intersection and city, or intersection and ZIP Code.

Santa Rosa, CA Santa Rosa, NM

Yes

City and state works.

San Francisco Moscow

Yes

The bare city name works absurdly often. If the same city appears in more than one state it appears to pick the largest. International cities were added recently, but data quality varies.

CA or California

No

State or state abbreviation alone doesn't work.

94305

Yes

ZIP Code works. Postal codes for other supported countries, such as Canada and the U.K. work as well.

LAX

Yes

Airport codes work.

SFO

   

Paddington

Yes

In the UK and Japan, subway stations work as locations.

37, -122

Yes

Latitude and longitude expressed as decimal degrees with - to express West longitude or South latitude.

37 N, 122 W

Yes

The same, but use N and S and E and W.

N 38 24' 08.8" W 122 49' 44.2"

No

Latitude and longitude as degrees-minutes-seconds doesn't seem to work, but perhaps after partaking of the magic syntax elixir….

Range and township

No

Google Maps doesn't seem to do range and township. This would be a great feature for genealogy buffs that get records of their forbears' property transactions.

[location] to [location]

Yes

Any of the above locations that work can be mixed and matched with the word to in between them to get driving directions.

[thing] near [location]

Yes

You can use any of the above locations to search for nearby businesses and points of interest.

 

1.3.1. Odd and Surprising Ways to Find Things

Not everything is documented! Like Google's search, there are a lot of things that just work that are not documented (or at least they are not documented where you are likely to see them). For example, as of April 30th, 2005, I could find no mention that entering a latitude and longitude in the search box would have any effect, and yet it works!

The moral is that when you have a wild idea about a way to search for something, try it first, and then if it doesn't work, enjoy that temporary feeling of satisfaction that comes from being ahead of the curve (well, either ahead of the curve, or plumb crazy, but since there is no reliable way to determine which is which, you might as well enjoy it).

1.3.2. When Locations Fail: The Importance of Context

Unless you specify a location in your searche.g., "edible food near King's Cross"Google Maps assumes that the place that you are searching for falls within the area, or extent, that is currently shown in the map. As a result, a search that works on the full extent will sometimes fail if you have a local context set. You can reset that context by adding "near [some location]" to your search, or by clicking on the Google Maps logo in the upper left of the page.






Google Maps Hacks
Google Maps Hacks: Tips & Tools for Geographic Searching and Remixing
ISBN: 0596101619
EAN: 2147483647
Year: N/A
Pages: 131
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