Why you should be excited about the New Google Maps

Last week,  Google released a preview version of the new version of Google Maps for the desktop. I requested an invite as soon as I could and got it a couple of days ago. I’ve written this post based on the first look.

The new Google Maps has been redesigned inside and out. The most apparent change is the cartography. Marker and feature colours have changed and it’s fairly apparent that a lot of work went into making the map presentable, compared to the Spartan nature of the ‘old’ Google Maps. (The gradient used for water bodies is my personal favourite.)

The interface has changed. The old clumsy sidebar is gone and replaced with a series of cards, which is a good thing. The new UI allows for an unobstructed view of the map, but you know where to find the search bar if you need it. A bar at the bottom shows a carousel of thumbnails of photos taken in and around the location you are currently viewing.

The new Google Maps interface
The new Google Maps interface
The old Google Maps interface
The old Google Maps interface
Google Maps photo carousel
Google Maps photo carousel

The search feature has been revamped. Searching for a place shows a card which has the name and address of the place, directions and either street view or a photo of the place. You can now also have custom searches, which will be saved in case you want to search for the same thing again. For example, a search for ‘thai food, pune’ shows all of the restaurants in Pune that serve Thai cuisine. Nifty! You can click on one of the markers to get more details about the place and directions on how to get there.

Places that serve Thai cuisine in Pune
Places that serve Thai cuisine in Pune
Clicking on a marker shows a cards containing the name, address and photos of the place.
Clicking on a marker shows a cards containing the name, address and photos of the place.

If you opt to ask for directions, it shows me a couple of cards that replace the search card. The marker is automatically entered into the ‘B’ (destination) box. You can either manually enter an address in the ‘A’ (source)  box or choose from you home or work address, in case  you have set them. You get to choose whether you want directions for driving/walking/cycling/flying (in case the source and destination have flights connecting them) or using public transport.

Driving route and directions in the new Google Maps
Driving route and directions in the new Google Maps
Live traffic in the city of Pune
Live traffic in the city of Pune

If you choose driving instructions, you are shown a series of stack cards with step-by-step driving instructions. You can also choose to turn on the traffic view if you don’t want to get stuck in a jam.

If you frequently rely on public transport for getting to places, Google will make you very happy. The public transport option shows you what bus to get on at what stop, where do you need to change, where to get off and how long the journey would take. You also get the times at which the bus runs, the frequency of the bus and alternate routes that you can take. If your city has a train/metro service, you can also get what combination to take to reach the destination quickly.

Bus routes in the new Google Maps
Bus routes in the new Google Maps

If your appetite is whetted, you can request for an invite to the preview here.

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Big Data can leverage GIS to a whole new level

big data boomFuture historians will probably be identifying the first few decades of the 21st century as the time when Big Data took the world by storm. Over the past decade or so, the growth in the amount of data stored on the Earth has been staggering. The advent of social networks, increased device mobility and an e-savvy population has led to a massive flood of unstructured data about anything and everything imaginable.
Gartner defines Big Data as

Big data are high volume, high velocity, and/or high variety information assets that require new forms of processing to enable enhanced decision-making, insight discovery and process optimization.

This definition identifies 3 ‘V’s of Big Data:

Volume- The sheer volume of data present.
Velocity- The velocity at which this data grows.
Variety- The variety in the nature, subject and structure (or lack of) of data.

Needless to say, it is vital to generate a fourth ‘V’ to the above three: Value. Value cannot be obtained, it needs to be identified, generated and acted upon. GIS can be a very powerful tool in generating value out of this very unstructured data.

A lot of generated data has some spatial significance to it. GIS Analysts can help identify this significance by recognizing trends, patterns and outliers in the troves of generated data that could be crucial to making good decisions. This information can be overlaid as themes on a map to visualize these trends and patterns.

This information can be used by Governments all over to recognize issues quickly and accurately. Disaster Management can be mad more effective by filtering data for significant chatter about events. Businesses can use GIS-enabled services to map their influence over markets and recognise potential customers and areas that need to be strengthened.

GIS can be of huge significance in managing and making sense of Big Data. We, as analysts need to step up to the challenge and help make empowered decisions and make the movers and shakers of this planet realize just how powerful GIS can be.