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Friday, August 16, 2013

Developments in Google's Mapping Program -- Pegman retires Part One

In our overwhelming online world of constant upgrades and new data sources, we can lose track of the usefulness of some of our basic tools. Maps are one of the most basic finding tools for genealogists. We sometimes excuse our lack of ability to find some types of records online because we know that there are still a huge number of records yet to be digitized. But we need to know that this limitation does not extend to maps. During the past few weeks, if you have worked at all with Google Maps, you are aware that this program is being constantly changed with one major overhaul. After seeing yet another notice from Google for a webinar on their new mapping functions, I decided it was time to follow through and see if the new features were truly beneficial or just one more thing to learn.

I should probably mention, right at the beginning, that I am using Chrome as my browser on an iMac and your views might vary. Of course, you may not see these changes at all if you have not upgraded your version of the browser for a while or chosen to upgrade to the new Maps program.

Starting out, Google Maps has a new look. Gone is the little icon with Pegman and some of the features you may have been used to using are missing. Here is a screen shot of the new Maps program window:

In fact, all of the familiar interface tools seem to have moved or are missing. There is a new bottom menu bar in the form of images from sites around the area shown on the map. It appears that the Map program has moved from utility to advertising. Of course, this is highly predictable from Google, the largest and most profitable advertising company in the world.

If you look closely in the lower right hand corner, you will see that the familiar slider bar icon with Pegman has been replaced by an even simpler plus and minus sign.

Likewise, the search box in the upper left corner has been redesigned. So the first question is how do you get to street view if the Pegman is missing? Well, you might try double-clicking on the map to zoom into the street view level, but you will get a surprise. Double-clicking no longer always zooms you into the map. Now, when you double-click on a specific location, if there is a photo or ad for that location, that photo or add appears in the upper left hand corner. If you manage to double-click on something not already subject to Google's scrutiny and advertising, you will slowly begin to zoom into the areas on the Map. After a few attempts, you will probably do what I did and resort to using the plus and minus signs.

As you zoom in, you will see the images on the bottom tool bar change to reflect the area shown. All of these turn out to be links to the street view and mostly ads for the local businesses. If you click on any one of the images, you will see the street view at that location, but you will also see a smaller version of the map on the left to link you back to the map view. Here is another screenshot with arrows showing the different views:

Notice also that there is a compass icon that can be turned to move the street view around in 360 degrees by clicking on the little tiny arrows. To see any of this detail you will have to click on the images or go to the program on your computer.

The image tool bar at the bottom of the page can be hidden by clicking on the small link on the right that says "Explore." If you hide the images, you will see a link to the Google Earth program. Here is how the bottom of the screen without the images appears:

If you click on the Earth view, you may be asked to download an app. In the earth view, another icon link appears in the right hand corner giving you the option to view the map as a tilt view:

You can return to a "normal" view by clicking on the icon again when in tilt view. By the way, you can return to the "classic" view anytime by clicking on the Help & Feedback link in the upper right hand corner of the window. The Earth view is what was previously called the satellite view, but with some additional features such as the tilt.

You may find that the only way to get to the street view is to click on one of the image icons. Double-clicking seems to have its limit and does not automatically take you to street view.

OK, by now you are probably wishing for the classic view so let's leave this exploration of the new Map features for right now. I will go into the real changes that allow you to create your own personal maps (not really a new feature but changed) in the near future.

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