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Google Maps is an incredible tool on its own.
But innovators have harnessed its power. They have created games, tools, and visuals that take Google Maps to the next level.
Google Maps makes a certain amount of its platform available to third-party developers, and the results of these collaborations go far beyond navigation tools.
If you have an afternoon to spare, take some time to play some great Google Maps games, investigate the history of your local area or far-off destinations, appreciate literature in a whole new way, or explore the world from your living room.
Google Maps for Gaming
Google Maps may not seem an ideal platform for games. But it can be. Whether you’re fighting zombies in your hometown or trying to figure out your location based on context alone, these games are a great way to spend a few hours
2016 will forever be remembered as the year of Pokémon Go, so it seems only fitting that it has a dedicated Google Maps tool.
Use this site to see exactly where different Pokémon are spotted by other users and add your own sightings to help other users figure out where they’re most likely to capture rare Pokémon. Users can search by location and type of Pokémon, setting PokéCrew apart from other similar tools.
Have you ever wondered what would happen if zombies invaded your neighborhood? Wonder no more. Street view Zombie Apocalypse populates your neighborhood with zombies and your goal is to run away from them as fast as you can using Google Streetview. How long can you stay ahead of the undead
In the game Pursued you find yourself the unfortunate victim of a kidnapping that lands you in an unknown city on Google Maps. You get a five-minute head start on your captors, and must successfully identify the city you are in to your friend before time runs out.
There are only 20 levels to this game, which is fewer than other similar games, but it’s nice to have both a backstory to your situation and levels that you know are solvable. For example, there is no chance you’ll be ending up in the middle of the Sahara Desert!
GeoGuesser is similar to Pursued, but with more locations. You receive a certain number of points based on how close your guess is to your actual location on the map. With a free account you can choose to play a “challenge” version of this game against your friends.
Maps TD is a strategy game that can be generated on a map anywhere in the world. The system will automatically generate an area that you need to defend against invaders using towers and upgrades.
You can choose to play the game using Google Maps’ classic imagery, or a “watercolor” setting as seen below. While the game may seem simple, it’s surprisingly addicting — especially when you’re protecting key cultural centers or your home town!
Google Maps for History
Google Map’s focuses on presenting you with up-to-the-second information on traffic and road conditions, but it’s also a great tool for looking back in time.
One of the best known tools for historical information on Google Maps is a website called What Was There. Using this site, you can see still photos from different cities over the past century. Then, overlay them over the city’s modern street view.
Images are uploaded by individual users, so some areas are more populated than others. No matter how many images are available, this site is a great way to really feel connected with a city’s past and to gain appreciation for its history.
This website merges old maps with new technology in a fascinating way. First, enter the location that you’re interested in to see any existing maps of the area. Then, choose three control points on both the old map and the new map to help the system to line up the two images.
Once you have chosen your control points, you are able to overlay the two maps — giving you a whole new perspective on the area and its history.
8. Back in Time With Street View
If your interest in history is more recent than ancient, Google Maps has recently opened up access to their historical Street View data. This means that you can watch how neighborhoods change over time, how natural disasters have influenced an area, or if weird Google Street View finds have stood the test of time.
To access this feature, enter Street View at your location of choice. Then, select the clock button in the top left corner of your screen (as seen below) to see all previous versions of Street View at this location.
Google Maps for Literature
When you think about maps, literature probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. These tools help you see both maps and their relationship to reading in a totally new way.
We Tell Stories is a fantastic initiative by Penguin Books. This 2008 initiative focused on modern authors re-imagining six classic stories in a digital format.
Author Charles Cumming writes The 21 Steps (inspired by The 39 Steps by John Buchan) entirely using reference points on Google Maps. Follow his protagonist around London through the story’s 21 chapters, taking time to explore Street View and totally immersing yourself in the action.
10. Google Lit Trips
Google Lit Trips is one of the many ways Google is integrated into the modern classroom. Each Lit Trip features key locations featured throughout a book, and allows readers to better understand a book’s settings.
To use this program, you will need to download Google Earth to your computer, and open a free account. Then, you can request different Lit Trips through e-mail.
Many of these Lit Trips correspond with required reading lists, and are organized by grade level. If a book you are looking for is not already featured, it may be a great idea for a class project!
11. Poetry Atlas
Poems are commonly written as odes to different locations worldwide. Poetry Atlas is a website that is dedicated to featuring each of these locations using a pushpin or feather quill for any location that a poem has been written about.
You can browse poems by location or by searching poet, title, or first line. If one of your favorite poems is missing, send a suggestion via the site’s posted e-mail address.
Google Maps for Exploring
Of course, maps are best for exploring — and Google Maps offers endless opportunities to do just that. These programs give you the chance to explore all parts of the world from different perspectives.
This website is a fantastic resource for scholars of any age or level. Explore museums, world heritage sites, artifacts and more. No third-party developer can challenge the incredible resources that this website offers.
Have you ever wanted to explore the Himalayas? What about exploring the Himalayas with a yeti?
If you have an Android phone, you can download Verne. The app gives you the chance to explore the Himalayan mountains in 3-D using Google Maps’ data. This app is the perfect blend between whimsy (meeting virtual yaks), beauty (the breathtaking views of the mountain range), and learning.
Google Maps is amazing, but it can also feel a bit impersonal. Panoramio challenges this feeling by including photos of landscapes from users all over the globe overlaid on Google Maps. You can add your own photos (of both indoor and outdoor locations) after registering for a free account.
Photos range in styles and subjects. But they help to showcase the diversity of our world and the many colors to it.
15. Plane Finder
Wonder what route a certain plane takes to get from point A to point B? Tracking a relative’s movements as they fly across the globe? Plane Finder uses flight information to track planes in real time as they complete their journeys.
You can search for a flight by its airline, flight number, or departure/arrival destinations, and receive information on its flight path, anticipated arrival time, and airplane model. It’s also pretty crazy just to see the sheer number of planes in the air at any given time. See below for an example!
Chances are, if you’re using Google Street View for any length of time, you are going to come across a sheep or two. If you do, consider submitting a screenshot of your flock to the creators of Tumblr blog “Google Sheep View”. This is a project dedicated to collecting Google Maps’ images of sheep from across the world.
This project has been underway for well over a year now. The creators continue to update the blog regularly with new flocks as sheep deserves its time in the spotlight.
More Than a Navigation Tool
This list barely scratches the surface of all the Google Maps innovations that are available for use. Tools like these are just in their infancy. So, there’s no telling where technological developments in this area will take us next!
Are there any Google Maps tools that you can’t believe I left off this list? Please let me know about them in the comments! If not — what kind of tool would you love to see next?
Image Credits: BEGUN/Shutterstock