Posts Tagged ‘google’

Test Drive The New Google Maps Preview; With A Little Bit Of Cookie Hacking

There’s a new version of Google Maps for the web but so far it’s not for everyone. You need to request an invite and not everyone gets one of those it seems. But if you’re impatient or curious and don’t mind a tiny amount of technical hackery you can get to test drive the new version without the need to be one of those blessed with a preview invite.

If you go to Google Maps right now, you’ll still see the current incarnation of Google’s map. This is what the map of my home town looks like. The new preview version is there, you just can’t see it.

Google Maps

The key to unlocking the new preview is held in a cookie called NID. If you change the cookie’s value from one impenetrable string of characters to another, equally impenetrable string of characters, the preview will automagically get unlocked. There’s several ways to modify a cookie; as I use Chrome on a daily basis I used the Edit This Cookie extension, but there’s other ways to do this depending on your browser of choice. Once you’ve found the NID cookie, change its value to …


… and reload the page. Hey presto. Welcome to the new Google Maps.

Google Maps Preview
One final word of warning; this is a hack. It’s likely to change or go away at any time. If you’re a Chrome user, it also seems to wreak havoc with Chrome’s omnibox searches as well. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

After The Missing Manual For OpenStreetMap, Here’s The Google Map Maker Version

The growth and uptake of today’s internet and web allows us to do a lot of things that were previously the preserve of the professional. You can see this in the rise of words which now have citizen prepended to them. We don’t just write blog posts, we’re citizen journalists. We don’t just take photographs, we’re citizen photographers. To this list, we can now add citizen cartographer as well.

With the help of OpenStreetMap, HERE’s Map Creator (which I work on) and Google’s Map Maker, anyone with a modern web browser and an internet connection can now help to make maps where previously there were none and to improve and keep maps up to date, which still remains one of the biggest challenges to map making.

There’s already been a book about OpenStreetMap, which I wrote about in April of 2011. As far as I know, no-one’s written about HERE’s Map Creator but for Google’s Map Maker there’s Limoke Oscar’s Instant Google Map Maker Starter.

When I wrote about OpenStreetMap; Using and Enhancing the Free Map of the World, one of the reasons I liked reading about making maps with OSM in a book was because …

OpenStreetMap is easy to use, graphical (on the website), comes with multiple discussion and documentation sites and well supported mailing lists; you can always find the answer to your question. But sometimes you don’t know what the question is. Sometimes you just want to read a book.

The same can be said of Instant Google Map Maker Starter. The e-book edition I’ve just finished reading doesn’t appear to have the physical weight and depth of the OSM tome, but that’s only to be expected of a book that clearly sets out to be a starter.

Instant Google Map Maker Starter

As a starter, the book describes itself on the cover as short, fast, focused and on all these counts it succeeds admirably. Making, creating and editing a digital map is now massively easier than it was 5 years ago, but it’s still not simplicity itself.

When you’re setting out, you need to have explained what the difference is between what’s in the map, the spatial data of the map itself, and what’s on the map, the places or points of interest. You need to know how to use your software tool of choice, be it OpenStreetMap, Map Creator or Map Maker. You need to be shown the shortcuts and how to avoid the inevitable pitfalls.

Limoke obviously knows how to use Google Map Maker and it shows in the clear, concise prose, which educates from the ground up and doesn’t once stray into making the reader feel patronised or being lectured.

Maybe I’ve been spoilt with the depth and coverage of this book’s OpenStreetMap counterpart and even though the book is clearly labelled and pitched as a high level starter guide, it left me wanting more. But that’s not the fault of the author. Most of what I wanted more of is information that only Google would be able to provide; about why Google Map Maker is open for editing in some countries and about why you have to ask Google to get the data you put in back out. But I would have liked to have seen the author touching on the why of map making as much as the how, which he’s admirably written about. Why do people make maps and what motivates them?

Maybe there’s a book to be written about this; maybe one day I might even do that.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Map Push Pins vs. Dots? Google Map Engine vs. Dotspotting?

Yesterday, Google launched their Maps Engine Lite beta; a way of quickly and easily visualising small scale geographic data sets on (unsurprisingly) a Google map. The service allows you to upload a CSV file containing geographic information and style the resulting map with the data added to it. I thought I’d give it a try.

I turned to my tried and trusted data set for things like this; a data set I derived from a Flickr set of geotagged photos I’d taken of the London Elephant Parade in 2010. It’s a known data source and I know what the results of this data set will give me; it lets me do a reasonably meaningful visual comparison of how a particular product or service interprets and displays the data.

Google Maps Engine

Reading up on Map Engine Lite, I noted that I could only upload a maximum of 100 data points into a layer on the map, which wasn’t a problem as my data set is localised to London and contains only 10 pieces of information, one for each photo I’d taken. Once I’d uploaded the data I could style the colours of the push pins and the background style of the map. It looks pretty good, even if you are limited to 100 points per layer and it’s for strictly personal and non commercial use only.

But I was sure I’d seen this sort of thing before and I had, in the form of Stamen’s Dotspotting. I already had an account with Dotspotting and, even though I’d forgotten about it, I’d previously made a map from my London Elephants data set.


The parallels are many. Both Map Engine and Dotspotting allow you to upload data in CSV format. Both services try to work out coordinates from the data, if there’s no lat/long coordinates already. Both services allow you to style the resultant map.

There are differences. Dotspotting allows you to download your data; it doesn’t appear that Google does. Map Engine allows you to style the map markers; it doesn’t seem that Dotspotting allows this. Dotspotting supports Excel spreadsheets, CSV files, Flickr and Google My Maps feeds; Map Engine only supports CSV files.

There’s also one other key difference; Map Engine was launched yesterday, whilst Dotspotting was launched 2 years ago.

But there’s an old saying that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Map Wars; Are Apple’s Maps Really That Bad?

Making a map isn’t easy. Making a map of streets and land features is hard. Making a map of streets and land features that stays up to date is harder. Making a map of streets, features and places, businesses, services, points of interest is harder still. Making a map of all of the previous that stays up to date is really hard. Making a map with all of the previous, wrapping it up in an app that runs on your smartphone and making it useable is verging on insanely difficult. Yet that’s what Google and Nokia have been doing and with the release of iOS 6, that’s what Apple is now doing as well. So how is Apple doing?

To make a map you need several things. Firstly you need spatial data for the streets and land features. You can either license this data globally from TomTom (TeleAtlas), from Nokia (NAVTEQ) or from OpenStreetMap or you can stitch together data from local and national sources, such as the UK’s Ordnance Survey, and come up with a modicum of a global map. Yes I know that Google now have their own maps, a by product of Google StreetView, but this isn’t global, at least not yet and even Google license map data from TomTom.

Secondly you need non-spatial data. Places, businesses, services, points of interest and the like. Most people license this sort of data from a variety of sources, ranging from the more traditional Yellow Pages companies through to internet data providers such as Factual.

Thirdly, you need satellite imagery. Again, you typically license this from specialist imagery providers such DigitalGlobe.

Fourthly and just as importantly, you need time and you need money. All of this data costs; it’s very expensive, labour intensive and time consuming to put together. You also need to take all of this data, which comes in whole plethora of different forms and make it work nicely together; this is also expensive, labour intensive and time consuming.

Wrap all of this data together in a smartphone app and you should have a working maps app that consumers will find easy to use and which gives them the answers to the questions they typically ask of a map. Back to my original question then, how is Apple doing? The polite answer would have to be … not that well.

Let’s start with a nit-picking point. The app icons from Google and from Apple. Both icons are centred around Infinite Loop, Apple’s HQ in Cupertino, California with the 280 interstate going from East to West and North De Anza Boulevard running from North to South. Maybe it’s just me, but the Apple Maps icon on the right, seems to advocate that you enter the 280 by driving straight off of a bridge carrying N De Anza over the freeway, which does seem a little risky and foolhardy.

But nit picking aside, how does Google and Apple square up and compare. To do this I used my iPhone 4, recently upgraded to iOS 6 alongside my second generation iPad, still running iOS 5 and still with Google Maps as Google hasn’t, yet, released an iOS version of its maps app. I compared three areas I know pretty well. My local neighbourhood in Teddington, South West London, the area of Berlin around the Nokia offices and an area just to the South West of Campbell in California where some close friends live.

Let’s start with Teddington. I’m going to leave out the discussion about the look and feel of the spatial map as this is both subjective and a matter of personal taste. Some people like Google’s map style, some don’t. So I’ll just skip right over that topic.

At first glance, all the usual suspects are there. Roads, public transport, green spaces and a smattering of POIs, at least at this zoom level. To be fair, neither Google nor Apple get it completely right. There’s a restaurant which closed down and reopened a few months back under a different name which, given the challenge around keeping data fresh can be forgiven. But Apple seems to also have places which don’t exist, at least they haven’t existed in the 10 plus years I’ve been living in this neighbourhood.

Switching to the hybrid, map plus satellite imagery, view and Apple seems to be ahead, but this is more a case of differing zoom levels between iPhone and iPad to try and get screenshots that can at least be compared side to side. Both sets of imagery seem relatively fresh, albeit taken at different times of the year.

Overall, both Google and Apple are pretty lacking in the suburbs of London so next I tried a more metropolitan area surrounding Nokia’s office in the central Mitte district of Berlin.

Here both Google and Apple score higher for the amount of POIs on the map and for freshness and accuracy, although Google’s 3D-a-like building outlines still show the old Nokia office with a large car park on the south side of Invalidenstraße, rather than the new office building which is there now.

This lack of freshness on the part of buildings is even more apparent on the hybrid view, showing the state of Nokia’s office construction some 9 or so months ago, again with different imagery between Google and Apple.

Finally, over to California and not that many miles away from Apple’s HQ in Cupertino. Here I’d really expect Apple’s maps to shine, but sadly they don’t. Although again, to be fair, this is also not that far away from Google’s HQ in Mountain View, and neither Google nor Apple shine here, it’s more a case of who shines less.

One thing that my screenshots don’t show is the ease of use. How simple and accurate are these maps to use to find a given street address, postal code or POI. Given that I’ve already found Apple lacking in overall POI numbers it comes as no surprise that searching for a set of local POIs is disappointing on Apple’s map. Both maps find streets pretty well in all three locations, though Apple seems to have problems with street numbers, especially those which contain number ranges, such as 18-24 High Street. Apple also falls down on postal code searches, which is surprising in the UK given that both companies license the Royal Mail’s Postal Address File via the Ordnance Survey.

Back again to my original question … how is Apple doing? When you’re launching a competing product which is meant to go head-to-head with existing competitors you need to ensure that you launch something which is at least as good as your competitors, if not better. When you’re launching a competing product which effectively removes the competitors from the public’s sight, as iOS 6 did with Google Maps, then you need to be better than your competitor. Does Apple succeed in this? No and not by a long margin. You could argue that the maps from Apple and the maps from Google are just about on a par in terms of content in central metropolitan areas, but out in the suburbs, where a lot of people live, Apple doesn’t even come close. Yet.

That’s a key word in all of this debate of Apple vs. Google … yet. Apple have only just launched their maps and haven’t yet had time to put in place all of the data relationships that Google’s maps rely on. Comparing the legal notices for Google’s maps with those for Apple’s maps – shows just how much Apple have to catch up on. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to count how many relationships Google has compared with Apple.

As Charles Arthur pointed out in The Guardian recently, Apple is no stranger to launches and products going wrong. In time, Apple will correct the glaring omissions and errors in its maps and will build up a critical mass of data relationships to be able to go head-to-head with other maps apps on a basis of quantity and quality of data, but right now Apple is using their control over iOS to replace Google’s maps with a sub-par experience. As I mentioned right at the start of this post, making a map is hard and it takes time and it takes money. Apple have the luxury of both. Time will also tell whether Google does launch the rumoured iOS 6 Google Maps app or whether Apple will reject this due to competing functionality with iOS; somehow I doubt they will do this due to the inevitable bad publicity this will undoubtedly generate. But even if Google do launch Maps for iOS6; I cannot help but wonder how many people will jump back to Google maps in favour of Apple’s map, in just the same way that Internet Explorer still enjoys a large installed user base simply because it’s on people’s PCs when they switch it on for the first time.

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Making Maps Underground

Warning. This post contains a sweeping generalisation. Yes, I know that Places are not just part of today’s digital maps; see the James Fee and Tyler Bell hangout The One Where Tyler Bell Defines Big Data as a proof point. But for the sake of this post, just assume that Places and maps are synonymous.

It’s never been easier to make a map. Correction. It’s never been easier to contribute to a map. Today we seem to be makingcontributing to maps everywhere, even underground, or should I say Underground?

To makecontribute to a map, you used to have to be a professional map maker, with easy access to an arsenal of surveying or an industrial grade GPS.

Then came the notion of community mapping. Be it OpenStreetMap, Navteq’s and Nokia’s Map Creator or Google’s Map Maker, anyone armed with a GPS enabled smartphone, hell, anyone without a GPS, could help make a map.

And now it seems, all you need to do to help make a map is to be somewhere unmapped with some form of internet access, be it a 3G or 4G cellular data connection, or a wifi connection. As part of the London 2012 Olympic Games, some London Underground stations (finally) got wifi access and sure enough, where wifi goes, so does mapping, even platforms on the London Underground.

With apologies to Steve Karmeinsky for exposing part of his Foursquare check-in history.

Written and posted from the Arcotel Velvet, Oranienburger Straße, Berlin (52.52602, 13.38834)

Foursquare Checkins, Maps And WordPress; Now With MOAR Maps

If you’re an avid Foursquare user you can already display your last checkin, visualised on a map, in the sidebar of your WordPress powered site with the WP Quadratum plugin. Foursquare, checkins and maps … what more could you ask for? Maybe the answer is more maps.

Version 1.1 of the WP Quadratum plugin, which went live this morning, now has added maps. The previous versions of the plugin used Nokia’s maps, because I work for Nokia’s Location & Commerce group and I wanted to use the maps that I work on. But if Nokia’s maps aren’t the maps for you then how about Google’s, or maybe CloudMade’s OpenStreetMap maps or perhaps OpenLayers’ OpenStreetMap maps.

Thanks to the Mapstraction JavaScript mapping API, WP Quadratum now allows you to choose which mapping provider you’d like to see your checkins appear on. And if you don’t want a map on the sidebar of your site, you can embed the checkin map in any post or page with the plugin’s shortcode too.

As usual, the plugin is free to download and use, either from the official WordPress plugin repository or from GitHub.

As a fully paid up and self confessed map geek I may be somewhat biased but surely most things can be improved with the simple addition of more maps.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)

Is This Apple’s New Map? (It Doesn’t Look Like Google’s)

Updated 8/3/12 at 12.20 GMT

Judging by comments to this blog post, on Twitter and on Google Plus, the consensus seems to be that yes, Apple is using OSM data from 2010 outside of the US; inside of the US it’s (probably) TIGER data and no, there doesn’t seem to be attribution and Apple may well be getting a communiqué from OSM to that effect. Other sources of information on this include

… and now, back to the original post.

We live in a world dominated by and surrounded by brands. One of the hallmarks of a successful brand is whether it’s able to be immediately recognised as that brand, without necessarily looking too deeply for a brand label. Look at a car and you’ll probably be able to tell whether it’s a Ford or not. Look at a laptop and you’ll probably be able to tell whether it’s Apple’s or one of those faceless, grey, consumer models. Look at an espresso cup and you’ll probably be able to tell whether it’s got coffee from Illy in it.

As it is in the real, offline world, so it is in the digital, online world and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of digital maps. Each mapping provider has an immediately recognisable look, feel and style to it. You can tell whether the map is from Nokia or NAVTEQ, from Google, from Mapquest or from OpenStreetMap. Now granted, a digital map is the product of lots of data sources but the map’s style is unique; although OpenStreetMap’s style is almost the exception as there’s several styles you can use.

Ever since the launch of the original iPhone, for Apple that look and feel of their maps have been Google’s. Even before you look to the bottom right hand corner of the map and see the Google logo you’ll know it’s a Google map. There’s also been lots of rumours that with Apple’s acquisitions in the mapping space, C3 and Placebase to name but a few, it wouldn’t be too long before Apple had their own map.

Maybe that time has now come, for iPhoto on iOS at least. Take a look at the screen grabs above. These maps aren’t, at least at face value, Google’s. The map style isn’t Google’s and even more interestingly, there’s no immediately apparent copyright or brand notice anywhere on the map. Is this Apple’s new map or is it another map provider’s under a license that doesn’t need branding?

Thanks must go to follow Nokian Andrea Trasatti for spotting this on MacRumors; there’s also commentary on this over at 512 Pixels as well.

Photo Credits courtesy of MacRumors.
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Foursquare Goes With OpenStreetMap; On The Web

In web and location circles, much has been made of Foursquare’s recent “little announcement” of the location based, check-in, company’s decision to oust Google Maps and instead to go with OpenStreetMap data, by way of MapBox.

From reading a lot of the coverage you’d be forgiven for thinking that Foursquare has completely severed ties with Google’s mapping APIs, but this isn’t quite the story. As ReadWriteWeb notes in the last paragraph of its coverage, “Foursquare’s iPhone and Android apps won’t be affected” as the move is for Foursquare’s home on the web,, only.

Indeed, the current set of Foursquare smartphone apps continue to use a variety of mapping platforms. On Android and on iOS, it’s still Google Maps, not unsurprisingly given Android is effectively a Google mobile OS, and Google is still Apple’s mapping platform of choice, for now at least.

On Blackberry it’s also business as usual for Google Maps, whilst on Symbian, it’s Nokia’s mapping platform and on Windows Phone 7 it’s (currently) the Bing mapping platform.

So while this move is great news for both the OpenStreetMap community and for MapBox and, as ReadWriteWeb notes, “when you use Foursquare Explore on the Web to search for places, you’ll be taking eyeballs away from Google“, this is a move that affects Foursquare’s web presence only, not their mobile apps. Given that in order to actually use Foursquare effectively, in other words, to check-in, you need to be on a smartphone, I wonder how many eyeballs will actually be taken away from Google. Furthermore, whilst those in the location industry are looking at this keenly, I have to wonder how many users of Foursquare will actually notice the change on the web.

For Foursquare on the web this is probably a smart move and for most users of the Foursquare website, OpenStreetMap data is, as Muki Haklay noted in a paper published in 20101, “good enough“.

But not good enough apparently for some Foursquare users, who are fairly outspoken about blank or incomplete maps on the comments to Foursquare’s announcement blog post.

It would be good to think that Foursquare’s use of OpenStreetMap data will encourage their users to contribute to the underlying open spatial data set that is OSM; after all, all you really need is a GPS device, which is what most smartphones are these days. The optimist in me hopes that this will be the case. The pessimist in me, or maybe it’s the realist in me, tempers that hope with the realisation that Foursquare still makes the address of a new Place optional, that a geocode from a GPS device probably isn’t enough and that most Foursquare users neither know or care about the underlying map, caring far more about getting to the top of the leaderboard, becoming Mayor and earning badges.

Time alone will tell whether my optimistic side is right.

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Costa Rica And Nicaragua; A Border Dispute In The Age Of Web Maps

The popular press and media likes nothing better to poke fun at people who seem to ignore their own senses and instead rely on their GPS sat-nav systems, which frequently results in people ending up in the middle of fields, in the middle of rivers or even, in extreme cases, almost driving off of the edge of a cliff.

But the strangest example of this sort of behaviour was in the first reports of recent events on the border of Costa Rica and Nicaragua that seemed to implicate Google Maps as justification for Nicaraguan troops crossing the border into Costa Rica and raising the Nicaraguan flag on Costa Rican territory. The dispute seems to hark back to the 1850’s where the contested border between the two countries followed the course of the San Juan River, the course of which has since moved somewhat, as rivers are wont to do. Costa Rica asserts their sovereignty on the disputed land based on the 1850’s arbitrated border which follows the course of the river and Nicaragua asserts theirs based on the fact that the river has moved so some land must be theirs.

The reference to Google Maps turns out to be a bit of a red herring as well, originating from an opportunistic sound bite rather than fact. Granted Google have based their data set on admittedly sparse data, some of it originating from the US State Department, which had got it wrong. But other mapping data vendors, who should know better and who at the time were having a great laugh at Google’s expense on various forms of social media, turn out to be just as incorrect as Google’s.

While this is probably the most extreme example of “but I found it on the internet so it must be true“, the whole story is less about whose map is right, less about blaming map error on an online map and more about how some parts of the world are less well mapped than others. Not all map data is created equal.

The twists and turns of the story are best followed on the original post from Jonathan Crowe’s excellent The Map Room blog and its follow up as well as an in-depth article on the subject from Ogle Earth.

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More Location Tracking; This Time From Foursquare

Back in March of this year I wrote about deliberately tracking my journey by using Google’s Latitude and unexpectedly tracking the same journey by looking at the history of my Foursquare and Gowalla check-ins.

By using the history function from Google Latitude I was able to put together a quick and dirty visualisation of the locations I’d been to but my check-in history added not only the location but also the place that was at each location.

During last week’s Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco, Fred Wilson (no, not the guy from the B-52’s) mentioned that you could feed your Foursquare check-in history into Google Maps and produce another quick and dirty visualisation of not only the places you’d checked into but also where those places were.

Simply login to your Foursquare account and visit your feeds page at and copy the RSS check-in history link but don’t click on the link. Open up Google Maps and paste in the link and add ?count=200 to the end of the URL to make Foursquare return a reasonable amount of check-ins. Hey presto, one instant map of your check-ins, which shows me that I’ve been checking in in the Bay Area in the USA, in and around London in the UK and in and around Berlin in Germany. Not that I didn’t know this already but it’s always good to see this visualised on a map.

Foursquare History - Global

Of course, Google Maps is a full slippy maps implementation, so I can click, drag and zoom in to see my check-ins from the Geo-Loco conference in San Francisco in the Bay Area, south through Palo Alto to San Jose.

Foursquare History - Bay Area

I can also jump across the Atlantic Ocean, straight over the United Kingdom, to Berlin and see Berlin’s Tegel Airport in the west and the Nokia Gate5 office in the Mitte district of the city.

Foursquare History - Berlin

With a little bit of time, effort and GIS know-how I could have probably come up with a slick animated trail of my check-ins but sometimes a quick and dirty way of seeing where I’ve been on a map is all that’s needed.

Written and posted from home (51.427051, -0.333344)