Web mapping technology has come a long way in the last few years. Thanks to websites like MapQuest and Google Maps, you can now get travel directions, find businesses and even look at a picture of your house on the Internet from your computer or phone whenever you want. No longer just focused on the United States, you can use Google Maps for places around the world, and by using Google Earth, you can even look at satellite images and maps of the Moon and Mars.
The Web-based mapping software Google Maps is free for noncommercial use and can be used to look up satellite photos, plan driving directions or find residential and commercial businesses. The content from Google Maps feeds several other Google programs, including Google Transit and Google Street View. You can access it online from a computer or from a mobile device.
Google Maps uses content provided by mapping companies like Map Insight. While Google cannot specify an exact update schedule, it does say that it receives update information from these companies several times per year.
Google Maps uses high-resolution satellite imagery in its software for many urban areas around the world. Rural areas will often have less pristine images. Updates for some areas can take a long time, and so while you may be able to find your home on Google Maps, it could be that the photo was taken years ago. Some areas have intentionally delayed satellite images, such as U.S. military facilities and government offices for security purposes.
Because the satellite images used in Google Maps have such great resolution, it was often possible to spot people's faces and other uncensored information. For example, on Google Street View, you can sometimes see right inside people's homes when the curtains are open. This caused some concern for privacy advocates, and Google has since implemented facial blurring technology.
Another major concern with Google Maps is the time that it takes to update certain maps. In the time between updates, whole new neighbourhoods and subdivisions can appear. There have also been problems with the mislabelling of street names and landmarks. In some cases, satellite images are obscured by cloud cover and offer no details at all. Google has a link on the Google Maps website where users can report new or erroneous information.
Google Maps isn't the only Web mapping provider. MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps and OpenStreetMaps all offer mapping services. While Google Maps offers the most extensive coverage, the other providers may offer more detail in some areas or different features, like Bing Map's 3-D mapping.
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