I’ve been playing around quite a bit lately with the Google Maps API, using it to render Google maps, via HTML inline tags, inside websites I’ve been building. Suffice to say, like a lot of other stuff Google has made available to the, well, geek masses, I am really impressed with the power and flexibility of the tool. After getting a Google Maps API Key (currently free and required to use the Google Maps API to render your own maps) and reading the documentation (with its excellent examples), you can actually start creating custom maps right away and tying them into your existing location data.
Of course, I am a little concerned about the way this ties my various sites to Google, but I figure that, if you want to have this functionality, you are going to have to deal with someone. It might as well as a company with a slogan like “Do no evil.” (Seriously, that is one of the 10 things Google has found to be true and is part of its corporate philosophy.)
Recently, Google unveiled the ability to use its Maps API to do geocoding, which is the process of using non-longitude/latitude data (such as street addresses, zip codes, whatever) to get highly accurate geographical coordinates (essentially, longitude and latitude). I’m not sure if Yahoo Maps API offering geocoding to web developers was what pushed them to do it, but basically, the change allows programmers to programmatically look up locations and cache the geographical coordinates, which can be used to quickly retrieve future maps (retrieving a map is faster if you submit specific geographical coordinates over using address data, another few people think in terms of longitude/latitude; most people deal more with place names, addresses, and such).
it is really facinating to watch the intense competition going on between Google, Yahoo, and to a lesser degree, Microsoft, while they battle for the mindshare of web developers and programmers. Google definitely tends toward trying to get programmers on their side, by providing the greatest flexibility in how the underlying technology and infrastructure can be used. Yahoo has selected less technically-oriented web developers as their key customers, and they are focused more on making AJAX and Flash-based sites easier to integrate with Yahoo services. Microsoft… well, Microsoft is still really developing a strategy, but it appears to involve a close tie-in with existing Windows platform-based tools, like Visual Studio or Frontpage. Basically, you may, in the future, be able to get up a dynamic map in your Frontpage-built, IIS-served, .NET-powered web page simply by selecting that object in VS .Net. Woopie.