Mapping Australia – spoilt for choice?

Link to a screen grab of the Google map of my neighbourhood.Just a few months ago, Australians had no ‘new generation’ web street maps, now we’ve got three! By ‘new generation’, I mean smooth dragging, ajax/javascript driven, feature loaded maps – not the old point and click clunkers like whereis (though quite good in their own right, people want more these days).

Now that I have all these choices, I find myself skipping between them, with the natural comparisons that brings. So, at the risk of boring others, in the hope of kicking off some discussion, I thought I’d post my (very unscientific) ‘findings’, about the comparative features of each and how well they map my neighbourhood.

Google Maps

The most obvious starting point Google Maps. So far there is no ‘.au’ version, but the satellite imagery has been quite exciting for some time, and they’ve just added street maps. Really nice street maps too! The street names are easy to read, the subtleties of the shapes of the streets are quite correct – there’s even detail of the property boundaries and laneways. I don’t know ‘MapData Sciences’ are, but the accuracy of the data is impressive.

Other positives for Google:

  • They are still the only one with any reasonable satellite photo coverage
  • The thumbnail ‘overview’ in the corner works nicely
  • Fast and clean.
  • That well loved API for mashups

Negatives for Google:

  • at this stage, you can’t search for anything except major cities in Australia
  • hybrid view (which overlays maps on photos) shows an error of about 5 metres east-west. It’s not a big issue, but it’s disconcerting. Incidentally, I created a simple mashup of my own, which was accurate until the most recent imagery update, when all the photos seemed to slide west a fraction.
  • poor print support

Windows Live Local

The opposition, Windows Live Local from Microsoft is impressive at first flush. The satellite imagery is so low res as to be useless – but I’m sure this will slowly change. The interface is slick… in Firefox on my nice fast mac, there are JavaScript effects and AJAX interaction flying all over the place. It is a rich experience.

Positives for Microsoft

  • Searching for my street works – even down to house numbers!
  • The maps are clean and uncluttered – perhaps a little bare
  • Interaction and feature rich interface
  • good print support, if a little complicated by options

and the Negatives

  • some confusing aspects to the interface
  • questionable accuracy: while everything is vaguely in the right place, my street is definitely straight, not all wonky like it is on their map. In fact, my neighbourhood is laid out on a very orderly grid, but they make it look quite drunken.
  • whitby street, not whiteby!They got the spelling of my street name wrong! – though the search finds it when I use the correct name
  • probably the hardest to read of the three

Zoomin – the newcomer

a zoomin mapZoomin sort of came from nowhere just a few weeks back. There are elements of the other two, but there are also some really neat features that have slipped under the radar of the big boys. Only Australia and New Zealand so far, but this is a self centered review, so that’s fine by me.

Positives for Zoomin

and the Negatives for Zoomin

  • It feels like a beta – there are some rough edges
  • Commenting, photos, user supplied content is clumsily implemented. Not really a scalable or useful community tool yet.
  • There’s a slightly awkward projection of the maps – giving the grid of streets in my neighbourhood a bit of a lean towards the east. Minor grumble.


As if this isn’t enough, we can probably look forward to more from Yahoo, who haven’t got meaningful map data for Australia yet, but sure have a nice interface… and don’t forget the incumbent, Whereis, either. Word is, they’re in the process of creating their own ‘community friendly’ mapping tool that will no doubt feature loads of nifty interaction and an API. Google could fix their search problems, probably more easily than Microsoft can fix the inaccuracies in their mapping data, and Zoomin is definitely the dark horse with the fresh ideas.

These are interesting times. I’m certainly looking forward to the next 12 months!

2 replies on “Mapping Australia – spoilt for choice?”

  1. For me Google maps wins hands down. Usability and depth of support and discussion re api mash ups is growing huge. Feel a little sorry for all the mapping services that previously sold their data for bucketloads! Although thats progress and change!

    Cant wait until google has geocoding for Australia.

  2. Just thought you should know, Google Maps now lets you search for places in Australia down to the street number. You have to search with “# street name, suburb, state (e.g. VIC), australia”, though, but this still is pretty good.

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