SpatialTau v2.6 – When Maps Got Slippy

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It seems like just yesterday but 10 years ago Google Maps was born.

If you hopped in your DeLorean for a trip back to before 2005, you’d remember the days when we were all dependent on paper maps, print-outs, post-its and sometimes even a compass for directions! Getting from point A to B is something we do all day, every day—from finding the fastest way to get to work, to dropping the kids off on a carpool route, to meeting friends for drinks at a new spot—so it should be as easy as possible. That’s why we created Google Maps and why we’ve spent the last 10 years figuring out better ways for you to get around.

Re/code has a great article on the birth and evolution of Google Maps that I encourage you to read.  For us in the industry, the biggest thing we remember is the disruption of how we visual maps on the Internet.  I didn’t start blogging until May of that year (boy, almost 10 for me) but early on there was much discussion about Google Maps (and Google Earth).  Today, most of our mapping libraries mimic Google Maps either with their API or their tile structure or even the look and feel.  The days of panning and then waiting for a map to redraw or the re-center on a map click are over.  Tiling maps is as common as performing buffers on linear features.

“Google Maps like” is a phrase we see al the time on RFPs and marketing materials. Google Maps has so profoundly impacted our visualization work-flows that we almost delineate between BGM (Before Google Maps) and AGM (After Google Maps).  We compare all new mapping applications against Google Maps, in accuracy and in function.  Projects like OpenStreetMap are successful because Google Maps changed how we navigate and discover people and places.  Companies such as Mapbox and CartoDB exist because as a society we want to view information on maps quickly and easily.  Legacy GIS companies such as Esri have pivoted and become web-centric because Google Maps became the visualization method of GIS data.  Legacy GIS companies such as MapInfo and Intergraph have been pushed aside because they couldn’t change to work within this new dynamic.

Before Google Maps we created online maps in VB6, C#, Java and other complicated languages.  Now whole applications are built with nothing but JavaScript (for the best).  Mapping APIs all look and feel like Google Maps.  There are no weird silo methods to create and display mapping data.

​Just look at that.  You know what it means and what it does.  The impact of Google Maps is so complete we seem to forget it is even there.

Even outside of Spatial IT we see the impact of Google Maps.  How long will it take to get to work?  Where is the nearest bar?  When does the next bus arrive? How do I get to the airport?  What is the best place to get a taco near me?  These are questions we type in to Google and get map showing us information.  Even though our cars may have some proprietary Navteq navigation system, we prefer to use our smartphones to find out where we are going.

I’ve been thinking about this all week, my professional life has changed so much since 2005 because of one product.  This started as a simple USA centric car navigation application and has become Navteq/Yelp/Yellowpages/Fodor’s/Michelin Guide/Zagat/AAA all in one.  But with the Google Maps API, it becomes a GIS visualization tool that everyone can use.  I can connect it to PostGIS without much effort and display database information that would have take a complex Java/.NET middleware component to handle.

Google Maps is the most disruptive force on GIS that ended up being exactly what we all needed.  I can’t wait to see what we do in the next decade!