Google Maps are a treasure trove for discoverers. Not only do they help you navigate and not get lost, you can also discover some pretty weird things in Street View, explore data and information in unique ways with Google Maps mashups, or create your own custom maps. In short, there is never a chance to get bored with Google Maps.
What I find most fascinating about maps in general, is that they help put things into perspective. Whether you’re just trying to get from A to B, or learning about the locations of foreign countries, which might shed a light on their political and social history, a map automatically takes you on a mental journey. Google Maps and their mashups make this journey more enjoyable by visually enriching plain maps with satellite images, data, and interactive elements. Maybe you can’t afford to travel, but you can still look at a map and see the World with different eyes.
Do you love art? The New Museum maintains an interactive map with over 400 independent art spaces located in 96 countries around the world. The map is based on the Art Spaces Directory, “an international guide to the sites where contemporary art and artists are nurtured, interrogated, and sustained.” You can search the map by location or activity. Each entry on the map expands to a a full article in the directory.
Is there a cool art space near you? Let us know in case you visited!
This interactive Google Map presents all UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the world. Zoom into a country by clicking the flag, then hover over the marked sites for the name of the site and a photo. When you click a site, you are taken directly to its page on the UNESCO homepage, which contains many more details.
This map hasn’t been updated for a while, but it’s still a fascinating browse.
Mercator Puzzle [No Longer Available]
With this puzzle Google demonstrates drag-able polygons. Can you find the correct locations of 15 country shapes from around the globe? Drag them in the right position and they will turn green. Note how the size changes as you move up and down the longitude. This highlights the distortions that are a characteristic of the Mercator projection map.
Here we have a collaborative map which lists all historic sites with reference to Presidents of the USA. It includes libraries, museums, national historic sites and parks, universities, and more. The description typically explains what makes the place presidential, if not its name. Being a collaborative map, it also contains some nonsense entries, but fortunately not many.
Many maps are based on weather events. This one maps geological events, specifically earthquakes during the past week. Via the tabs on top you can quickly zoom into different regions. A legend in the bottom left explains what each of the different color pins represents; a red pin for example symbolizes an earthquake of a magnitude above 6.0 on the Richter Scale. Next to the legend you will find relevant news and blog articles, as well as videos sourced from Google.
A similar service called Quake Spotter is also available as iOS app.
TubeJP [No Longer Available]
Do you live in London or are you planning to visit? You will need London Tube Journey Planner! It’s the easiest way to quickly figure out a route across London. Simply pick your departure and destination and get a route map, along with connections and next available rides in the menu on the left.
This simple map shows the current distribution of daylight on the planet. You can jump to a custom date and time via the menu on the right. DaylightMap is also available for your Android under the name TerraTime (not free). [No Longer Available]
Extra: Google Lit Trips
Google Lit Trips is one of the most awesome projects I have discovered during my quest for cool maps. Not strictly a Google Maps project, this site offers free downloadable Google Earth files, that depict the journeys of characters from famous literature, complete with supporting material, including relevant media, discussion starters, and real world references.
Google Lit Trips “3-dimensionalize” the reading experience by placing readers “inside the story” traveling alongside the characters; looking through the windshield of that old jalopy in The Grapes of Wrath or waddling alongside Mr. and Mrs. Mallard’s duckling family in Make Way for Ducklings. – Jereome Burg
Planet Earth is an amazing place and you can explore it from your desk with Google Maps.
If you are craving for more cool Google Maps projects, visit the unofficial Google Maps Directory GMdir or MapTube, which have a lot more in store! Some of the maps above I found on Keir Clarke’s incredible Google Maps Mania blog. Do visit and follow via Twitter or RSS if you want to stay up to date about the latest and coolest Google Maps projects out there!
What are your favorite maps?