Now You can add Google Buzz Layer for Google Maps

The desktop version of Google Maps added a layer that was already available in the mobile interface: a Google Buzz layer. In addition to showing geotagged Google Buzz messages on the map, Google also shows posts from Twitter, FriendFeed and other similar services, so it’s strange to see that the layer is called “Buzz”. To enable the layer, go to Google Maps, click on the “More” tab and select “Buzz” from the list of layers.

“Find an interesting area like your neighborhood and select any available icon to see what’s going on there. In the post’s window, click on the name to see the author’s public profile, the timestamp to comment on the post, or the place to see it in Maps,” suggests Google.

The integration of Google Buzz’s mobile app with Google Maps is probably the best feature of the application. When you post a message using the mobile application, Google uses your location to find nearby places and lets you pick one of them. This way, Google Buzz users can post useful information about local businesses without adding a review to Google Maps.

More Friends Search in Google Maps

Google Maps no longer shows suggestions only from your recent searches. When you start typing a query, Google Maps shows popular locations, searches and local businesses. For example, you can type “red” and the first suggestion is “Redmond, WA, USA”.



The suggestions are helpful if you want to type a complicated name like Eyjafjallajökull and you only remember the first letters, but Google doesn’t do a great job at ranking the list of suggestions.


The autocomplete feature from Google Maps is the first implementation of Google Suggest that uses HTTPS. Google Maps continues to show personalized suggestions from Google Web History, a feature that has replaced Saved Locations.

Now Google Maps Mixes Search Results with Google Ads

Google Maps has a new feature for business owners in the US: “for just $25 per month, businesses in select cities can make their listings stand out on Google.com and Google Maps with Tags“. Google allows businesses to add yellow markers on the map and to promote their websites.

The new Google Maps ads don’t influence ranking, but they make some of the results more visible. “Tags do not affect the rank of search results; they simply add more information when a particular user is searching,” explains Google.



Until now, Google Maps ads were clearly separated from the organic search results, just like the ads from Google’s web search results pages. For only $25 a month, local businesses can now customize their snippets and add a distinctive marker on the map. This features makes the distinction from search results and ads blurrier.

Google doesn’t allow publishers to pay for advanced features like customizing snippets, adding rich snippets, showing thumbnails or favicons next to search results. “Google doesn’t accept payment to crawl a site more frequently, and we keep the search side of our business separate from our revenue-generating AdWords service,” mentions an article from Google’s help center for webmasters.

In other related news, Google Local Business Center is now known as Google Places and businesses from US, Japan and Australia can apply for a Google photo shoot. “Google’s photographers are specially trained to take great photos of building interiors, dealing with some of the challenges such as low lighting and tight spaces. The photographers are also trained to take panoramic pictures using fisheye and wide angle lenses that should translate into great looking pictures of your business.”

Experiment to show hotel prices on Google Maps

Google Maps is often one of the first stops travelers make to find and compare hotels. Today we started experimenting with a new feature, visible to a small portion of users, to help make that process even easier by showing specific prices for selected hotel listings.

With this feature, when you search for hotels on Google Maps you’ll be able to enter the dates you plan to stay and see real prices on selected listings. You can click on the price to see a list of advertisers who have provided pricing information for that hotel, indicated by the “Sponsored” text, and click through to reserve a room on the advertiser’s site. By showing you this relevant hotel rate information directly in the Google Maps results panel we hope to make this aspect of your trip planning more speedy and efficient – so you can get where you’re going and enjoy your travel destination!

Here’s an example of the Google Maps results for someone who is searching for hotels in New York City:

This new feature will not change the way that hotels are ranked in Google Maps. Google Maps ranks business listings based on their relevance to the search terms entered, along with geographic distance (where indicated) and other factors, regardless of whether there is an associated price.

While we’re experimenting with this feature, we’re currently working with a limited number of advertisers and it will only be visible to a small portion of users . As always, we’ll evaluate the usefulness and effectiveness of this new feature based on both data and feedback, and hope to make it available to more users and offer prices from more partners over time.

Posted by Andrew Silverman, Product Manager

New Biking directions added to Google Maps

Whenever I meet someone who finds out that I work on the directions team for Google Maps, the first question I’m asked is often “So when’s Google Maps going to add biking directions?” We’re big biking fans too, so we’ve been itching to give you a concrete answer. I don’t want to keep the good news a secret any longer, so the answer is: right now!

Today we’ve added biking directions and extensive bike trail data to Google Maps for the U.S. My team has been keeping close tabs on all the public support for biking directions that’s been steadily coming in, but we knew that when we added the feature, we wanted to do it right: we wanted to include as much bike trail data as possible, provide efficient routes, allow riders to customize their trip, make use of bike lanes, calculate rider-friendly routes that avoid big hills and customize the look of the map for cycling to encourage folks to hop on their bikes. So that’s exactly what we’ve done.

Let’s say you want to bike to work, or maybe you want to drive less and spend more time outdoors. Biking directions can help you find a convenient and efficient route that makes use of dedicated bike trails or lanes and avoids hills whenever possible. To find biking directions, select “Bicycling” from the drop-down menu when you do a directions search:


So, how does it work? Well, I’m based in Seattle, along with the rest of the biking directions team. The city is notoriously hilly, but also has some great trails and a strong cycling community. Let’s say I’m trying to get from Golden Gardens to a friend’s house in Montlake:


This route avoids hills (phew!) and puts me on the Burke-Gilman trail for most of the journey. When I need to get off the trail to cross town, biking directions makes sure to keep me on bike-friendly roads and avoid some of the city’s busiest intersections. The time estimate for the route is based on a complex set of variables accounting for the type of road, terrain and turns over the course of my ride. If I decide that I want to stop at Woodland Park Zoo along the way, I can click on the blue path and drag it to my desired route — just like with driving directions — and we’ll still customize the journey for cycling suitability. Over on the Lat Long Blog, you can read more about all the unique tweaks and calculations factored into our routing algorithm.

We’ve also added information about bike trails, lanes and recommended roads directly onto the map. This can help you get a better sense of your route, or let you find trails nearby for a recreational ride. When you’re zoomed into a city, click on the “More” button at the top of the map to turn on the “Bicycling” layer. You’ll see three types of lines appear on the map:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes


Thanks primarily to our partnership with the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, we now have more than 12,000 miles of trails included in biking directions and outlined directly on the map. We also have data on bike lanes and recommended streets for 150 cities across the country. We’ll continue to add new trail information and encourage riders to send feedback (biking directions is in beta, after all) and route information for inclusion via the “Report a Problem” tool. When Map Maker is available in the U.S., all riders will be able to directly contribute their local knowledge about trails, bike lanes and suggested routes.

We know that many of you have been anxiously awaiting this feature, so head over to http://maps.google.com/biking to try it for yourself and then hop on your bike!

Posted by Shannon Guymon, Product Manager

Google Adds Nearby in Local search

Google has just turned on a nifty location feature in search. Now, you can refine search results with a “Nearby” button, which will filter your results that cater to your location. So if you do a Google search for Italian restaurants, you can click the “Show Options” button to access a “nearby” filter to see results for Italian restaurants in the city/area you live in. You’ll also be given local business results as well.
Google says that it will shows you Nearby results according to your IP address or your preferred location, if you customized your location in search settings.

On the Road with the Google Maps API

In the previous installment of this occasional series discussing the Google Maps API, we used the API and a PHP library named GoogleMapAPI to plot and calculate a route along a map. Uses for such a feature are many, among them determining distance as the crow flies between two points, and even a quick gauge for figuring the length of a simple jogging or bicycling route. However, although useful, the limitations of such a feature quickly become apparent when the need arises to calculate the distance of a more complex route. Or what if you needed to chart a much longer route, such as one which would take the user from Columbus, Ohio to Cleveland, Ohio? For instance, charting the route as accurately as shown in Figure 1 would likely prove fairly tedious using this approach.

Figure 1. Charting a complex route
Figure 1. Charting a complex route

Thankfully, the Google Maps API offers a feature which can greatly reduce the work involved in creating complex routes such as this. In fact, you’ll be able to use this feature to create a complex multi-point route simply by clicking on your starting and concluding points, letting the API plot what it deems to be the most direct route. Sounds cool, doesn’t it? In this tutorial I’ll show you how to implement this feature into your website, and perform other tasks such as determining the distance of the route, and even displaying route directions such as those available at http://maps.google.com/.

Snapping Points to a Route

The first thing we’ll need to figure out is how the API will plot a route along the known roads and other byways. This is accomplished using the loadFromWaypoints() method, which will accept an array of up to 25 coordinates (or alternatively addresses, and even a mix of the two), and then work out the route which connects these points. The following function will add a marker to the map, and append the marker’s coordinates to an array named coordinates (defined in the typical initialize() function). If the coordinates array ever consists of more than one set of coordinates, the loadFromWaypoints() method is called, resulting in a route between the coordinates being drawn.

function plotRoute(overlay, latlng) {

// Create a new marker based on the coordinates

var marker = new GMarker(latlng);

// Instantiate the GDirections class

var directions = new GDirections(map);

// Add the new marker to the map

map.addOverlay(marker);

// Create the new array element

coordinates_array_element = latlng.lat() + “,” + latlng.lng();

// Add the new array element to the map

coordinates.push(coordinates_array_element);

// If > one point on the map, plot the route between these two points

if (coordinates.length > 1) {

directions.loadFromWaypoints(coordinates);

}

}

As was demonstrated in the previous article, to execute a function when the user clicks on a map, just attach a listener to the map, as is shown below. I’ve placed this call in the initialize() function. If you don’t know what purpose the initialize() function serves, be sure to consult earlier articles in this series.

GEvent.addListener(map, “click”, plotRoute);

Avoiding Highways

The route plotted between Columbus and Cleveland logically guided the user along one of the state’s major highways, namely I-71. But what if you were planning a marathon bicycle ride between Columbus and Cleveland? You can tell the API to avoid using highways by modifying the loadFromWaypoints() method call like so:

directions.loadFromWaypoints(coordinates, {“avoidHighways”: true});

Once in place, reload the map and again plot the points between Columbus and Cleveland. You’ll notice the outbound route from Columbus avoids using I-71, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Avoiding highways along the route
Figure 2. Avoiding highways along the route

You can pass along other properties as well, including one (locale)for changing the map locale, and another (preserveViewport) which will zoom the map to an appropriate level in order to ensure the entire route appears within the map viewport. Consult the API documentation for a complete list of available properties.

Calculating the Route Distance and Trip Duration

You can also easily determine the distance and estimated travel time using the GDirection class’ getDistance() and getDuration()methods, respectively. However, because these values are not returned until the loadFromWaypoints() method returns the route, you’ll need to use a listener to retrieve the values at the appropriate time. For instance, the following listener waits for the directions object to load. Once loaded, the duration is retrieved, converted into minutes, and updated within a div named duration placed somewhere within the web page.

GEvent.addListener(directions, “load”, function() {

var duration = (directions.getDuration().seconds / 60).toFixed(2);

document.getElementById(“duration”).innerHTML = duration +

” minutes to arrive at your destination.”;

});

Figure 3. Displaying the estimated travel time
Figure 3. Displaying the estimated travel time

Displaying Route Directions

Sometimes you might wish to provide the user with directions from one point to the next. Adding this feature is shockingly easy; just modify your call to the GDirections object to identify the div where the directions should be inserted, like so:

var directions = new GDirections(map, document.getElementById(“sidebar”));

After adding the sidebar div to your web page, you’ll be able to create interfaces such as that shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3. Displaying the estimated travel time
Figure 3. Displaying the estimated travel time

Conclusion

This and the previous article present you with two easy ways to determine distance between multiple points on a map, whether its as the crow flies or as somebody might travel along an established roadway. If you wind up doing anything interesting with these features, I’d love to hear about it!