Online maps are not only useful when traveling to unknown places, but for planning local trips and getting driving directions. For historians, map collectors and cartophiles, maps are part of art and history. Different map sites have different areas of emphasis, so we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 online map sites to help you find the perfect map for your needs.
Chances are we’ve all used a map at one time or another for directions or to learn about an area’s geography, but online maps have revolutionized the process in many ways: GPS and satellite imagery make it possible to view real photographs of an area. Online archiving of maps allows us to observe the changes to an area over time. Smart navigation technology (like the programs found in modern GPS devices) allows map users to plan and change routes based on traffic, construction, route preferences and more.
Integrated driving directions programs allow us to get step-by-step directions even if we can’t read maps. Demographic information collected over the past decades can be integrated into maps to obtain detailed statistics on an area just by finding it on a map. The maps are equipped with distance-measuring technology (which can be translated into driving time) to easily gauge the distance between two points on a map.
Our ratings are based on our evaluation of each online map site's appeal and flexibility, features, output/interface options, ease of use and help and support options. The following explains more in-depth about each ratings category we used:
Appeal and Flexibility
First we examined each site’s overall appeal and flexibility. This includes information on the visual appeal of the site (the design) and the ability to customize a request for a map. With websites in general, a well-organized site that is aesthetically pleasing makes for a more positive experience.
Next, we conducted a detailed review of each site’s features. This includes a general description of the site’s focus (some are specialized for driving directions, others for ordering prints, etc.) the various options of what to display on your map, navigation and viewing options and many other features.
The choice of an online map depends greatly on your goal. In this section of each review we specify the main functions of the site’s maps, as well as what distinguishing features make each site stand out from the others. The site matrix is designed for quickly comparing all the sites’ features on one page, and is equipped with convenient links to each site.
This section details the options for uploading, saving and printing your map. Depending on your computer, you may need to specify the format in which to save your map, but most sites allow you to print without first saving to your PC.
Many GPS, smart phones and other handheld devices are now able to accept uploads from map sites wirelessly or with a USB cable. So, from your computer you can research and plan an entire trip from beginning to end, all stops included, and simply upload it to your portable device.
Ease of Use
In this section we will discuss each site’s user-friendliness, including the basic process of finding the map you want. For example:
•Does the site absolutely require an exact address with zip code?
•Does the user have to select regions from drop-down menus before conducting a search?
•Is there a keyword function for finding points of interest and landmarks? What about businesses?
•Can the user find the proper area to start conducting a search within 10 seconds of landing on the home page?
•Does the site offer helpful suggestions based on map searches?
We also examined how easy it is to find and use the site’s other features, including the method of searching, panning and dragging a map to view surrounding areas. In our ratings, we gave preference to sites with simple navigation and easy-to-find resources.
Help and Support
Finally we rated each site for its help and support resources. This includes not only the methods for contacting the site administrator, but other online resources like manuals, tips, tutorials, issue reporting and FAQs.
Whether you’re looking for directions to the dentist, vacationing in Tahiti or trying to find a new place to live in London, our guide can help you find the online maps you need such as MapQuest, Google Maps and Yahoo! Maps or learn more by reading articles about online maps.
At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don’t Have To.™