Top 10 Things You Didn't Know Google Maps Could Do

There's more to Google Maps than a place you double-check your directions. Google's data-stuffed site offers a lot of helpful tools for vacationers, spreadsheet nerds, bikers and others. Today we're digging into Google's data-rich geo-tool and pulling out some helpful lesser-known features.

Photo by heiwa4126.

10. Use Starred Addresses Instead of Your Memory

It's a subtle little thing, but clicking the star icon next to a location listing in Google Maps is a real time saver. On Android, BlackBerry, Windows Mobile and Symbian phones — and, presumably, iPhones in some future update — you can pull up "Starred Items" when you're plugging in the address you're getting directions to. It's a lot faster than thumb typing, and if you're assembling a temporary list of places to go, starred items can be a disposable checklist.

9. Show a "You Are Here" Marker

It's easy to miss, between the four-point navigation tool and the zoom slider. But click that little button while using Firefox or Google Chrome and, through the magic of the geolocation standard, Maps will use nearby Wi-Fi and IP data to pin down a (rough) approximation of where you're at. It's convenient when you're in a foreign place with only a loose sense of direction — or if, like some Lifehacker editors, you seem to have inherited no sense of direction in general. (Original post)

8. Create Multi-Day Walking Itineraries

Want to get around a new city without having to pull out a smartphone or big folding map at every other intersection? Google City Tours pieces together a multi-stop itinerary for you with easy walking directions, formatted for easy printing. The tool has that Google-y quality of knowing what you're looking for after typing the vaguest search, but you can also move your destination pins to any specific address. If nothing else, it's a paper-saver: one map and set of directions, as opposed to 10 print-outs. (Original post)

7. Fine-Tune or Report A Bad Location

Maps doesn't get everything right every time. If Maps has a marker that's off, a wrong number, or a dead web site listed, you can sometimes fix it yourself. Click the pin for an address, hit the link for "More" and select "Edit Details". It won't work on businesses that have "claimed" their listing through the Local Business Center, and there are limits on what you can move, but if you know a pointer is just fundamentally wrong, there's a fix for that. You can also simply report a problem if you're unable to actually edit the wrong information.

6. Map Out a Great Bike Route

Google Maps' biking directions do more than just estimate how long it would take a very slow car to get from one point to another. Google takes traffic into account, sure, but also hills, routes that an area or cycling group has deemed as bike-friendly, designated bike lanes, and other cycle-specific data into account. Bicycle routes that normally wouldn't be shown in seeking car directions also appear on the map, in a green colour that stands out, and the tool as a whole is a cyclist's best friend in visiting a new area, or looking to vary up their excursions. Australia, please?

5. Provide Instant Lat/Long (GPS) Coordinates

If you're into the geocachingphenomenon, or need GPS coordinates for a web app or another use, Google Maps can provide them, but not by default. Click the green beaker-style Labs icon in the upper-right corner of Google Maps, then enable the LatLng Tooltip to see coordinates wherever your cursor is, or the Latlng Marker to be able to drop a "pin" wherever you need coordinates.

4. Show Photos Taken Nearby

Wherever you go, someone has been there before, and probably snagged a picture, too. So if you want to make sure you recognise a particular destination from the road, or want to see what the fuss is about any old place, find it in Maps, click on its pin and access Street View, then look for the Photos button to appear in the upper-right corner when you're virtually facing the place in Street View. As you "walk" around, you'll find different perspectives taken from various spots, and possibly some historical photos that have been properly geo-tagged too, from Flickr, Picasa Web Albums and Panoramio. (Original post)

3. Zoom To Exactly What You Need

Google Maps isn't always very intelligent when it comes to searching — sometimes it provides a zoom level that's way less detailed than you need. Enabling the Drag 'n' Zoom feature (part of Maps' Labs settings) makes it much easier to have exactly the areas you need (and don't need). (Original post)

2. Find Places Near Any Point on a Map

If you're searching for a particular place — a street name, a business, or other landmark — you can click on a marker and hit the "Search nearby" link to find coffee, petrol, banks or whatever else you need. What if you don't have a place to pin down, but want to generally browse an area? Right click anywhere on a Google map, click "What's Nearby?" in the box that pops up, and Google will create a pin based on a rough street address estimate, or with precise GPS coordinates. From there, you can click on "Search Nearby" in the box that appears in the left-hand pane, and search around without worrying about specifics.

1. Map Spreadsheet Addresses Onto a Map

Spreadsheets are the best way to gather and organise information in standard form. If you've got a whole host of options to keep track of in different locations, the clever Maps/spreadsheet mashup BatchGeo will take your spreadsheet and plot it out across a Google Map. Simply paste your spreadsheet data, and BatchGeo standardises the addresses and creates a custom My Map, filled with your locations and each one retaining the other data you plugged in about it. It's a fast way to make it look like you did a whole bunch of work, and that's never a bad thing. And while it's not technically a Google Maps feature, we think it should be. (Original post)

What cool little thing in Google Maps doesn't get enough love? What hidden-in-plain-sight offerings would you have included in this list? We want to hear about your favourite geo-tools in the comments.


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