Perhaps you haven't noticed, but we've been highlighting the best of Google Labs all week. Today we're taking a look at five great experimental features you can enable in Google Maps that solve a few annoying problems and make using the service easier, too.To enable any of the Google Maps Labs, just click here and enable the ones you want.
Google Maps URLs are long. They're long because they need to contain at least one address and an address can take up quite a bit of space. The solution? Google's URL shortening service. This lab builds it right into Google Maps so whenever you click the "Link" button you'll get a URL of a far more manageable size.
Drag 'n' Zoom
Figuring out how much you want to zoom in on the map is easy, but actually getting to that point is tough because the zoom lever doesn't provide any specific way of telling you how far you're zooming in. Drag 'n' Zoom fixes that problem by letting you click a little magnifying glass underneath the zoom lever, then drag a box to specify the exact area you want to zoom in on. It doesn't really get much more precise than that.
Speaking of zooming, there are times when Google doesn't have satellite data to show you the level of detail you're looking for. If you want to avoid this problem altogether, just enable Smart Zoom. If you ever try to zoom in on an area without satellite imagery, it'll automatically zoom you out to the closest point that does have something to display. This only happens when you're using satellite mode, of course.
What's Around Here?
Google Maps contains a whole bunch of data about nearby places, and What's Around Here? gives you easy access to that information. All you have to do is click the "What's Around Here?" button, that'll show up next to the "Search" button once you enable this lab, and your map with be infected with some sort of topographical disease — at least that's what it looks like. In reality you get a bunch of red dots indicating nearby places and you can click on them to see what they are. Alternatively, a list sorted by proximity will show up on the left.
Distance Measurement Tool
Google Maps provides you with the distance you're going to travel when you get directions, but if you are just looking to quickly check distance you'll want to enable the Distance Measurement Tool. Once enabled, you activate it by clicking a little ruler icon in the bottom right corner and then click any two points on the map. Google Maps will immediately draw a line between them and provide you with an exact distance measurement in either miles or kilometres.
These are just five labs we really like, and have a wider appeal, but there are a few more that you can enable on the Google Maps Labs page. Be sure to check them all out as there are a few good niche options that may appeal to you.