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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What Google Should Do with Google Maps

Google recently launched experimental hotel pricing on Google Maps, where common prices for hotels are listed alongside their search listing when you look for hotels in a certain area. This is an interesting feature that will probably be used somewhat once it goes public, but Google has the tendency to implement small little quips like this before taking on the bigger and more important tasks. So I took the time to come up with a list of things Google should have done before putting hotel prices in Google Maps. Hopefully somebody from Google will eventually notice this and maybe get to work.

The concept of keeping entire maps offline, satellite data and all, similar to Gmail Offline, is ridiculous. It would probably take up a lot of space, and chances are due to the satellite data it would be illegal. However, I would be very thankful if Google were to implement some type of offline technology in Google Maps, whether it just means the ability to save offline directions and only the maps associated with those directions, or saving specific places and listings. Anything that allows me to be productive with Google Maps when without a Wi-Fi hotspot. And this would be especially useful if their mobile apps could have the same functionality. There have been many times where I was clueless when navigating the city, because I do not have a data plan and Google Maps does not work on any of my mobile devices without a data plan or Wi-Fi connection.

Integration with Buzz, Gmail

You see all these location-based services popping up, such as FourSquare and whatnot. Google already has one of the best mapping services out there (if not the best), and recently created a Twitter-like social networking service (Buzz). Why not plug the two together and create a force more powerful than all the location-based services combined? Because it becomes so much easier when I can do more with one integrated service. (Let's face it, how many people are using Google Latitude right now versus Google Buzz users?) I believe the primary reason I do not use FourSquare that much is because I am already too busy with Twitter and Buzz.

And while we're at it, why not jump up a tab and integrate with Gmail? Picture this scenario: you are going on a camping trip (the classical exmaple), and you need to email your friend directions. You both have Gmail, so why not have a way that you can embed Google Maps directions in the email. Google Wave has the functionality, and I love it (though I have not done any recent travelling, so I cannot say I have used it). And the best part is that this would probably not take too much work, as they have already implemented Google Calendar appointments, YouTube videos, Picasa photo albums, and numerous other items in a similar fashion.

Automated Identification of Places

I think we can agree that most parking lots look the same, as do gas stations, speed limit signs, parking rules signs (and other road signs for that matter), and numerous other items you commonly find on satellite imagery and street view. This is one of my more idealistic suggestions, but why not write an evolutionary algorithm that can find these features on the map, and do something useful with it. Imagine all the parking laws in New York City automatically documented and put on Google Maps. Or Google Maps being able to give you more accurate travel times because it can automatically deduce the speed limit of a road. While this would take a bit more effort than the integration or offline features, this is something cool and awesome that they could be working on and they could be wowing users with in the future.

Solar Panel Real Estate

This idea is not my own, but one of my friends, and I felt it had to be put here because it kind of fits in with the Google.org philosophy. Google could collect sunlight data based on its satellite imagery, match it up with measurements on flat rooftops, and be able to figure out optimal places for solar panels to be erected. There are so many buildings and complexes with flat rooftops that could be collecting power and feeding it to the grid. Again, we are drifting into the less likely to happen zone, but these are all interesting ideas that could have been considered before hotel prices. (Besides, imagine a project by Google where they leased space on rooftops across the country to put up solar panels, then sold the power back to the grid to both cover the costs and make cleaner energy.)

These are only some ideas I could come up with, especially since its midnight in NYC, so my brain is a little fried. If anybody has any better ideas, please feel free to comment them. But my point is that there are so many things Google could have done other than list hotel prices in search listings. Really, I just think Google Maps is long overdue for some kind of new feature that is going to blow everyone away. Will it be one of these ideas? Maybe, maybe not.

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