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55 Ways to Have Fun With Google. Go to Table of Contents. Visit Gifcom.

When it first launched, Google Maps was limited to just the USA, but other countries have been added to the fold, with the street level mapping of the UK and Japan being uppermost.

...and I give you the Earth!

Increasingly, even the worldwide coverage of Google Maps is insufficient for some people. Google also offers a standalone program, Google Earth, which takes the experience to an even higher level.

By offering satellite and other aerial imagery as its basis (rather than the pre-drawn maps of Google Maps), Google Earth has a far greater wow factor when simply browsing the world. It does however offer vector mapping as an overlay to the images, and allows for new data to be added to the mix via an XML data-format called KML. Innovative sites are making use of this to offer downloads of the data into Google Earth.

Mashups galore

Ever wanted to find out where your taxi is in New York city, or what the desert looks like from space? Anyone with a website, and a little programming knowledge can create their own layer on top of Google Maps. A genius move by Google, bring people in to use your maps, without having to front any programming costs. The continuous development depends on the public, just like this page.

In late June 2005, Google released its now famous API (application programming interface). It has probably become one of the most popular ones out there. Hundreds of websites are dedicated to creating “mashups,” which mix Google Maps, through its API, with other kinds of data to create websites that are sometimes informative, sometimes entertaining, sometimes ridiculous, and always interesting.

One mashup, called Housing Maps (www.housingmaps.com), takes rental listings from the popular classifieds site Craigslist and adds it to Google Maps, taking a boring but useful text-based website and letting you browse it through Google’s easier-to-navigate map technology. Rather browsing and clicking Craigslist’s list of links, you just zoom in on a neighborhood, see where the houses are, and pick one. You can limit results by price, number of rooms, whether they accept dogs or cats, and even see pictures of the place via a simple pop-up.