My Google Maps Wishlist

Google unveiled their ‘next dimension’ of Google Maps earlier this week, and the largest takeaway from their announcement was the inclusion of better 3D modeling in Google Earth.  Using measurements taken from airplanes, Google Earth will recreate the terrain and buildings to ensure that all buildings are captured and recreated in the virtual environment.  As I said in the previous post, I thought this would be a pretty cool addition, but I wanted to see something that would be relevant to everyone in the world, not just the selected areas where Google planes would fly overhead to collect the measurements.  Alas, that’s what we got, but I won’t complain much – it’s still pretty cool, although I doubt it will come to my neck of the woods any time soon.

But, you know what would be even more cool?  Some of my Google Maps wishlist items below.

Instant Routing Updates

Make a change to Google Maps in Map Maker (the service that allows users to edit Maps), and have the Maps products update immediately for better routing around traffic or construction.  Right now, routing updates can take months to roll out to all Maps products due to the computing power needed to produce directions.  Maybe an option to force an update, however?

Recent Satellite Imagery

Have satellite images automatically update when a better image is taken.  Right now, it seems this is a manual process and judgment call based on if a newer image is better than the other.  I would think that there would be some concrete method of determining this, however, since % cloud cover is already captured on many satellite images, as well as the average resolution of the image.  Any time we can get more updated imagery in our hands is good with me.  (After thinking about this for a while, I doubt this will ever be in place.  Google blurs a lot of high-security areas to prevent the use of the tool for nefarious purposes.)

 

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The Next Dimension

Google has announced that they will introduce the ‘next dimension’ of Google Maps tomorrow at 12:30 pm ET.  The event comes the week before Apple will likely announce that they will start to remove Google Maps from iOS.  So Google’s looking to make Apple regret that decision.  Much analysis has gone into what this ‘next dimension’ may be, but being a Google Maps addict, I am adding my speculation to the mix.

The Next Dimension – 3D from Street View?

So the next dimension that Google Maps would have in a literal sense would be 3D.  Already, you can see “2.5d” buildings in Google Maps, but these are fairly crude gray blocks.  Leveraging technology from their Street View cars, it would be nice to supplement these gray blocks with actual Street View images.  From my experience, though, it seems that the Street View images identify too many false positive buildings, from parked trucks to signs to people.  (Take a look at this by attempting to click on what Street View thinks is a flat surface.)  So, while this would be a nice next dimension, I doubt that this is what we will see tomorrow.

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Google Chrome DNS Caching

For the most part, I enjoy Google Chrome and use it almost exclusively for web browsing.  However, I ran into a bit of a problem this weekend as Hollow Developers was switching our production servers from one host to another.  As soon as our DNS records were updated, I hopped over to OpenDNS, the DNS server that I use at home, and ensured their cache for the domain was using the updated server.  It was – so I was good to go – or so I thought.

Next, I loaded up the domain in Chrome, but it was loading the old server!  I opened up Opera, and it was loading up the correct server.  Odd, since DNS should be shared between all applications on my laptop.  And then it hit me, Chrome has some pretty extensive DNS settings and a corresponding DNS cache.  After a little searching, I found out that I could clear the DNS cache at chrome://net-internals/#dns.

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One Week In Google+

Google+ Logo

So it’s been a week since I signed up for Google+.  (Profile link)  So far, so good.  But, it’s still early in the service’s evolution, and I have a few thoughts:

  • It’s a ghost town among non-techies.  As much as I love the tech community, many of my close friends and acquaintances are not in that community.  Once invites start to make it to the general public, it will be interesting how the community evolves.
  • Photo sharing doesn’t seem to be as intuitive as it could be.
  • In your news stream, posts that were recently commented on get moved back up to the top (at least that was the case a few days ago).  Adding an option that would allow you to sort based on post time or last comment time would be helpful.
  • No threaded conversations – insanely annoying for posts that generate a lot of traffic, as is the case with the most prolific Plus users right now.
  • I could see how the email generated by the service could get spammy very quickly with the default settings.

On the plus side:

  • It’s a ghost town among non-techies.  (Yes, a pro and a con.)  I get to start my social network over again.  Facebook filled up quickly with a lot of acquaintances and people that I only met once.
  • It’s easy to group people into circles.  As easy as it could have been with Facebook, they didn’t capitalize on this feature, and adding people to lists is more difficult than circles.
  • No ads – yet.  I’m glad that Google+ isn’t bombarding me with workout and protein powder ads – yet.  I know that this is the ultimate focus of Google, and that we’ll probably start seeing more relevant ads throughout the internet on AdSense, but advertisements on Facebook can be creepy.  I’m not sure how that will change as Google gets to learn more about me and my friends.
I’m excited to continue using Google+, and ultimately writing a ‘One Year in Google+’ post.

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Gmail Smart Labels

Gmail introduced new smart labels earlier this week as a Labs feature. When you activate this lab, Google will attempt to assign the appropriate label to the message.  At this time, these labels are categorized as:

  • Bulk
  • Forums
  • Notifications
  • Personal
  • Promotions

This is a great first step, but think of how much further it could go!  It would be amazing for Gmail to learn what labels it should apply to different mail depending on who sent it, what the subject is, and other pertinent data.  For instance, our developers always label security updates as a ‘ToDo Item’, as well as a label that indicates what website it is pertinent to.  While our current filters work great for this type of thing, it would make everyone’s lives so much easier if this happened in the background.  So get on that, Google engineers.  A pint of Guinness is in it for you next time we’re at the Googleplex.

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Google’s Japan Earthquake People Finder

Google has deployed its people finder again, this time for the Japan earthquake that occurred earlier today. The massive quake not only unleashed devastating primary damage to buildings and infrastructure, but also spawned a tsunami that inundated low-lying areas. Even the United States’ West Coast was affected by the tsunami, causing some damage.

Google’s People Finder has been deployed after large disasters in the past, and within hours, the site was being used to report people’s locations.  The ability for such a large organization to do something good for humanity in general is a great example for businesses to follow, and a reminder that technology is increasingly becoming a part of disaster response, preparedness, and mitigation.

Within ten minutes of the earthquake, a tsunami warning had been sent out, and the Pacific region had been notified.  Hawaii had hours to prepare for the incoming wave, and the limited damage is a testament to how important these warnings can be.  After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed 200,000 people, largely in areas with no warning, these early warning systems are showing their importance, even if the wave that hit Hawaii was small in comparison.

Our thoughts go out to everyone affected by this disaster.  Google’s People Finder is embedded below.

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Gmail Experimenting With Desktop Notifications

It looks like Gmail engineers are experimenting with push desktop notifications in Google Chrome and Gmail.  This is a long-awaited feature of web browsers, and will allow web applications to act more like traditional desktop applications.  As more applications become web-based, ditching the traditional fat-client pieces, small things like this will help users with the transition.

Is the new option showing up in your settings?  (Click on image for full-size.)

Here’s a full explanation from the official Gmail blog.

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Android Honeycomb

While the web seems to be abuzz with iPhone-Verizon rumors, that may actually pan out this time, we cannot wait for the next version of Android to come out.  At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this weekend, Google engineers showed off a sneak peak of their creation, and we couldn’t be more excited.

The current version of Android, Gingerbread, released in the last month, has some incredible features, and we hope they are even more polished in Honeycomb.  Since Hollow Developers is a web publishing and design company, we are most interested in the improvements to the browser in Honeycomb.  With tabbed browsing, Google Chrome bookmark syncing, and other upgrades, Honeycomb will have the most full-featured browser in the mobile market.

What does this mean for businesses that depend on the web for commerce?  Simply, mobile browsing is something that shouldn’t be an after-thought anymore.  Ensuring that your website is accessible on mobile devices used to be a time-consuming process, but with web browsers on phones becoming more like full-featured versions of their desktop cousins, it is becoming much easier.  However, make sure to think about the limited screen sizes of these web browsers and plan accordingly.

Here are some mobile site best practices that we follow at Hollow Developers:

  • Ditch the Flash banner ads – until Flash is supported by most browsers (and doesn’t suck up processing power like the current versions)
  • Try to eliminate as much typing as possible in the registration step.  Typing on mobile browsers is still a little slower, and if someone is registering on a mobile device, they may have limited time to complete this step.
  • Think about screen layout in both portrait and landscape mode.  Can you still see the most important links and content in both modes?
  • Use Google Analytics to get more data about screen sizes and device types that are accessing your website the most.  Sites with tech-centric users will most likely have more bleeding-edge devices, while sites catering to older audiences may have limited web browsers that only display text.

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Gaga for Google

It’s fair to say that we are Google fanboys, or Gaga for Google, or any other variation on that theme.  Whenever we create a new website for a client or for internal purposes, one of the first things we do is signup for a Google Apps for Domains account.  For those unfamiliar with Google Apps, it allows Google to host your email server and provide many other Google services to your users.

Google Apps – Email

One of the best features is the ability to use Google as your email provider.  Not only do you remove the complexity of administering a mail server, but also remove all that email traffic from hitting your web server.  After a few quick steps, your domain is setup and ready for email.

When we setup a domain for email in Google Apps, one of the first things we like to do is setup a ‘catch-all’ account that will catch all of the email that doesn’t match a particular user.  This allows for emails to misspellings like suport (at) hollowdevelopers.com to get to the proper destination without a pesky error message going back to the sender.  Luckily, Google has made this quite easy to accomplish.  However, we go one step further on some ‘vanity’ domains that we own that were never really intended to be used as full websites, but rather are kept to protect brand integrity, etc.  For these domains, we setup a Google Apps account and forward the catch-all email to our main accounts at HollowDevelopers.com.  That way, we only have to check one account for all domains.  Obviously, this isn’t ideal for all operations, but we rely on it heavily to ensure that all of our client emails reach their intended destination.  One hiccup that we have encountered while setting up this forwarding is the missing ‘forwarding’ option in the Google Mail settings after setting up the domain for email for the first time.  If you encounter this, just wait until your MX records have been updated, and Google has had a chance to enable your account for email.

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