Until recently, I thought of Google Maps and its competitors as useful only for the lands I came to after leaving Mexico — great for the US and Canada, but zooming in on Mexico produced a low-definition blot with no streets or city names. (Do you remember the old days when zooming out showed only North America and the UK surrounded by one huge ocean, the rest of the world sunken down?)
A couple of months ago, when I last checked, Google Maps had extremely detailed street information of the US south, but everything was abruptly truncated south of the border. But yesterday, while tracking maps of the California fires, I noticed that street and city names had been added to the database. Would my hometown, Leon, appear now on the map? I started to investigate, and what I found surprised me and made me melancholic:
My old neighbourhood! In the full screen map I can see the hospital where I was born, my parents’ house, the cul-de-sac where we played sports, my elementary school, the places where my grandfathers died… I spent hours just contemplating the map — something I imagine many Americans and Canadians did a couple of years ago, but only available to me now.
The street’s are off by about 50 meters, and the grid has several imperfections, which I believe is relatively common. But the definition is much better and a huge improvement over the nowhere-land maps of a couple of months ago. Lovely!
I grew curious and went to other cartographic services:
This is from Microsoft’s Live Search Maps. The satellite view still shows an ugly low-definition image, but the road view is significantly more accurate than Google’s, and it includes neighbourhood names, which is a nice addition.
Finally, Yahoo! Maps:
Yahoo’s image is slightly more crisp than Google’s, but their road view is still an absolute disaster: no streets, and it doesn’t even get the urban blot right:
For street names search, all three services still fail, but at different levels:
- Yahoo! doesn’t have the street database yet, so searching for addresses is pointless.
- Google does, but querying for a street address throws back a “not found” message. Annoyingly, even city searching doesn’t work well: “Leon, Mexico” returns a small town in Mexico’s northeast, not the city most Mexicans would be expecting to get.
- Microsoft comes out slightly better than Google: the street address search fails, but at least it gets the “Leon, Mexico” search right.
What I found most interesting about all this is that it’s a snapshot of the three companies racing to refine their maps of places around the world. They’re being fast, and perhaps by my next visit to Mexico all three (or at least Google and Microsoft) will have correct and crisp maps of my hometown. Perhaps the whole world will be searchable soon after.