Google Maps is a free, AJAX-based mapping tool from (unsurprisingly) Google. It offers basic maps and even satellite images for the entire globe, as well as street maps. Fitting in with the other Google services, it is completely searchable. Having gone out of beta, it is now part of the much larger Google Local.
For any country that it has road maps for - currently the USA, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, China, the UK and some parts of Ireland - Maps can give directions from place to place. Although I'm sticking with Mapquest for now (with a "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude), I'll probably start using Maps sometime in the near future. Possibly because the Hybrid mode is so nice.
When you search for a region, you'll most likely find that region. When you search for a place, such as a building, Google can only make a brave attempt - it has to search through whatever text it has been given, and in most cases, these are promotional flyers from the place involved.
Of course, this being Google, it's bound to give some rather interesting search results. Searching for "brothel" gave some very odd places, wherever you search. It doesn't seem to filter anything, either - a local gentlemen's club is on the map in all its glory.
Because Maps is AJAX-based, some people were able to reverse-engineer Maps to make it show their own locations. In June, Google released the Maps API, allowing all sorts of customisations.
The most known of the Maps "hacks" include plotting crime data Chicago, 911 calls in Seattle, and houses for sale. There's even been a game made from it: Tripods allows you to fire weapons at other people. Not in real life, of course.
Give a man a dictionary, and he'll look up naughty words. Give a man a huge atlas, and he'll look up whatever places he knows about.
In April 2005, Google added satellite images to the maps. Although the entire planet is viewable to some extent, many areas of the satellite map are fuzzy or entirely non-existent. Mapping 196940400 miles2 of surface area is no easy task, I'll give them that.
As from June, however, Google added a major update of the satellite imagery, and Google Sightseeing really took off - Using the new pictures, people were able to make out some of the world's landmarks much more easily. Here are some of the more interesting sights:
I apologise for not linking directly; E2 cuts off the URLs at a comma.
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=48.858240,2.293847&spn=0,0&t=k&hl=en: Eiffel Tower, France
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=41.890354,12.491755&spn=0.004710,0.004034&t=k&hl=en: Colloseum, Rome
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=38.897545,-77.036294&spn=0.005032,0.007918&t=k&hl=en: The White House, Washington. Some of the rooftops have been obscured, because of security reasons.
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=36.015587,-114.737778&spn=0.005193,0.007607&t=k&hl=en: Hoover Dam, Nevada
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=34.134125,-118.321627&spn=0.003822,0.006156&t=k&hl=en: Hollywood, California
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=43.078444,-79.069912&spn=0.008894,0.010471&t=k&hl=en: Niagara Falls
- http://maps.google.com/maps?ll=26.748651,-80.074550&spn=0.005622,0.007875&t=k&hl=en: A UFO.
There are quite a few UFOs, actually. The current reasoning is that they're just condensation on the lens. But who knows?