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February 12, 2010

Google Maps Labs

When a product doesn't have many users, it's easy to add new features, even if they're still experimental. But how can you test new features in popular services like Gmail, Google Docs or Blogger? One solution is to launch a labs section with experimental features that can be enabled by early adopters.

Google Maps is the latest Google service that adds a labs section with cool features that aren't ready for prime time. As Google says, the features "may change, break or disappear at any time".

The most interesting feature available in Gmail Maps Labs is aerial imagery, which shows a "rotatable, high-resolution overhead imagery presented in a new perspective". Unfortunately, the aerial view is only available in a few locations from the US, including Googleplex.

"This new perspective gives users the ability to tilt their view of the world. In addition to seeing hotel rooftops like in our current "satellite" view, users can now see both the rooftop and sides of the hotel at an angle. In fact, users can rotate around all the sides of a hotel to get 4 different views from back to front," explained Google in a post from December.

Another great feature is drag&zoom, which lets you select a part of the map before zooming. This way, the results are more precise and if you don't have to constantly click on the map to find a location.

Did you know that you can search for * and Google Maps shows the top results from the current view? If you don't want to remember this trick, enable the "What's around here" option and Google Maps will add a new button that searches for *.

If you want to find the latitude and longitude of a point using Google Maps, enable "LatLng Marker", right click on a location and select "Drop LatLng Marker". If you use this feature a lot, you should enable a more advanced option that shows the latitude and longitude in a tooltip.

{ Thanks, Pascal. }

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