Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With Google Maps

Google Maps is pretty useful for getting driving directions, but did you know all the other things you could do with it? Here's a few of those nifty tips and tricks hidden in Google Maps.

Google Maps Returns To Apple's iPhone
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Not only can you get driving directions to and from a location, you can get walking or biking directions, too. You can also get public transportation directions in most major metropolitan areas. 

If this is available in your area, you will have multiple choices. Select driving, walking, bike, or public transport, and the directions are customized for you.

Bike directions are a bit of a mixed bag. Google may lead you up a hill or in an area with more traffic, so be sure to preview the route with Google Street View before trying unfamiliar roads. 

Open road
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Do you know you need to avoid a construction zone or toll area, or do you want to take a longer route in order to see something along the way? Change your route by dragging the path around. You don't want too much of a heavy hand when you do this, but it's a very handy feature.

Embed Maps on Your Website or Blog

If you click on the link text on the upper right-hand side of a Google Map, it will give you the URL to use as a link to your map. Just below that, it gives you the code you can use to embed a map in any Web page that accepts embed tags. (Basically, if you can embed a YouTube video on that page, you can embed a map.) Just copy and paste that code, and you've got a nice, professional looking map on your page or blog.

Google Maps allows programmers to hook into Google Maps and combine it with other data sources. This means you can see some interesting and unusual maps.
Gawker took advantage of this at one point to make the "Gawker Stalker." This map used real-time reports of celebrity sighting to show the location on Google Maps. A science fiction twist to this idea is the Doctor Who Locations map that shows areas where the BBC television series is filmed.
Another map shows where US zip code boundaries are, or you can find out what the effects of a nuclear blast would be.

Create Your Own Maps

You can make your own map. You don't need programming expertise to do it. You can add flags, shapes and other objects, and publish your map publicly or share it only with friends. Are you hosting a birthday party in the park? Why not make sure your guests can really find how to get to the right picnic shelter.

Get a Map of Traffic Conditions

Depending on your city, you can view traffic conditions when you look at Google Maps. Combine that with the ability to create an alternate route, and you can navigate the toughest traffic jam. Just don't try doing this while you're driving. 

When you are driving, Google Navigation will generally warn you of upcoming traffic delays. 

See Your Location on a Map From Your Phone - Even Without GPS

That's right, Google Maps for Mobile can tell you approximately where you are from your phone, even if you don't have GPS. Google put together a video that explains how this works. You do need a phone with a data plan to access Google Maps for Mobile, but it's a nice perk to having one.

Street View

The camera used to capture most of the Google Maps street view footage. This camera was mounted on top of a black VW Beetle while the driver drove at regular speed through road after road. Photo by Marziah Karch
Street view shows you images that were captured from a special camera (shown here) attached to a black VW Beetle. Google has gotten into some trouble for this feature by people who think of it as a stalker tool or an invasion of privacy, but it's intended as a way to find your address and know what your destination will look like. Google responded to privacy concerns by implementing technology designed to blur faces and license plate numbers from the captured images.

You can share your location with close friends or family members through Google+ Locations. This feature was previously available under the name "Latitudes."  

You can set location sharing to be precise or somewhat fuzzy at the city level, depending on how comfortable you are with sharing your location.