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Monday, June 7, 2010

Bing Maps Get Its Cool On

The new thing in maps is here. It’s not perfect, but it’s still a great start and, I believe, a bit of innovation on the part of the world’s most criticized software company.

Destination Maps


A short wizard walks you through a simple process where you select a location (via Bing Maps search), identify a region of the map and then select a style to present the map.

The result is a very clever, “accurate-enough” map of the selected area with an artistic representation of the major routes and landmarks.

For instance, you can select “sketch” or “treasure map” styling in the last step.

The whole process reduces an otherwise hard-to-read and at times confusing view of a city or area into a simple-to-navigate approximation of the same.


There are two major things that would prevent me from using the tool for something like planning an event:

  1. Users who are not technically savvy cannot share the map easily. While there is a share button, it only generates a link to a file that’s uploaded. I would prefer to see Twitter/Facebook integration or similar. Planning an event on Facebook and using this as the map would be awesome.
  2. There is not enough detail in the generated view to use the service for something like event planning. The maps could help you get to a part of the city, but they can’t get you around a neighbourhood. This may be by design as there appears to be quite a bit of computational work involved in determining and simplifying the maps. This limitation could help them control processing costs and keep the tool usable.

What I’d Like to See

Firstly, I think there needs to be controls for levels of detail. In my hometown we mark everything by the two major bridges and the river. These don’t even appear on the map. In fact, in a town of 40,000 people, we all appear to live on one of three streets.

Perhaps this could be resolved by adding either smarts to determine the level of zoom of a selection or a slider that controls the level of detail. Maybe even separate sliders for landmarks and street details would be a good idea. I think it’s perfectly fine to have the current setting as a default, but I want to be able to help my friends get to a dinner party in a confusing end of town.

Secondly, I’d like to get a route marked out. I want to show everyone at the wedding how to get to the reception afterwards! By allowing me to mark out start and end points – even selecting from pre-determined markers – combined with a slightly better level of detail this next-step in online mapping would be…well, it would be fun to plan events!

Well, fun that is if you’re into event planning. ;o)

Lastly, some performance improvements would be nice as for wider selections it does take a bit of time. Again, I could see myself using this more as an ‘end-of-destination’ tool: my friends know how to get to the city, not the neighbourhood.

Research Makes Cool Things

This is one of the coolest v1.0 features in online mapping I’ve seen in a long time. I got just about as giddy using this as I did the first time I got Google Maps running.

I hope they take this to the next level; definitely a home run, but three runners short of a grand slam.

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