Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Journey to a Thousand Maps Begins With an Open Code

Published: October 20, 2005

A Google map is no longer just a Google map.

You can still search Google Maps to figure out how to get from here to there, but why would you, when you can use it to pinpoint kosher restaurants in Cincinnati, traffic cameras in Dublin, or hot spring spas anywhere in the United States? How about finding coffee shops in Seattle that provide free wireless Internet access? Or would you prefer to locate the McMansion your boss just bought and find how out exactly how much he paid for it?

An army of programmers, most of them doing it just for fun, has grabbed the software code that generates the distinctive maps with their drop-shadowed virtual pushpins, and combined it with other data like the locations of potholes, taco trucks and U.F.O. sightings, and even the sites of murders and muggings.

The result is Google map mash-ups, the latest form of Internet information repackaged for entertainment and, perhaps, profit. For instance, type the official airline flight abbreviation and flight number into the Google search engine and should come up at the top of the results page. Click on that and you will see a pushpin marking the spot where the plane is. The service also provides a data box listing the speed, altitude and estimated time of arrival of the flight.