When you're wondering where something is or the best route to take, online maps are a quick way to find out what you want to know. Curious about the bordering countries of a certain place in Europe? No problem. Want to plan a trip through a state, stopping in various different cities on your way? Again, you can do that. You can even take it a step or two further and print written directions or check traffic in real time.
Seven Online Map Options
There are several online map services, each serving varying needs. Whether you are more interested in travel or education, there is an online solution that meets your needs.
1. Google Maps
Google Maps is one of the most full-featured online maps. The default map can provide an overall view of the world or any region, highlighting certain roads, highways, borders and cities. Google Maps can also be used to search for specific locations by name, by address or by latitude and longitude. You can also get directions for driving, walking, cycling or public transit.
By using the pull-down menu option in the top-right corner, you can also access traffic reports (including traffic predictions), terrain information, satellite images, real photos, and available webcams, as well as access to the Google Earth 3D interface. The "Street View" function offers 360-degree on-the-ground perspectives of many major cities.
2. Bing Maps
Offered by Microsoft, Bing Maps has many of the same features as Google Maps. It provides a basic overhead view highlighting roads, political boundaries and major geographical features. The service allows users to search for business names and categories, a helpful feature for finding nearby restaurants and service providers. Bing Maps also offers driving directions, walking directions and transit directions between locations, as well as current traffic information.
One of the more unique features offered by Bing Maps is the ability to explore venue maps. While only available for select venues, these maps provide detailed information about shopping malls, airports and more. This way, you can look up the specific location of a particular store in a mall before heading out.
Bing Maps can be accessed from a compatible mobile device by going to http://m.bing.com from the mobile browser.
Whereas the data from the previous two online maps come from major corporations, OpenStreetMap uses a crowdsourcing model for its map data. The map information is provided and updated by the growing user base, not unlike the crowdsourced information model utilized by sites like Wikipedia. All you have to do to improve the maps for everyone is create a free user account.
A very useful feature of OpenStreetMap is the ability to freely download any of the map data for offline use or for implementation in other applications, like in a custom-coded mobile app for smartphones. This data is made available under an open license.
Before the arrival of Google Maps, MapQuest was one of the most popular online maps available on the Internet. It is still very useful today, providing accurate street and highway information, including the ability to provide driving instructions, though there does not appear to be any integration for public transportation. There is live traffic information, however, as well as a choice of either a regular road map or satellite data. A series of shortcut icons are located near the top of map for quick access to lodging, banks, restaurants, travel services and more.
5. Rand McNally
The online maps from Rand McNally are geared toward providing a specific address and getting specific routing information. In this way, it is not nearly as useful for finding points of interest like restaurants and hotels. You can zoom in and out and get mileage information too. Rand McNally portable GPS devices are also available with this information, catering more toward truckers and RVs.
Most of the above online maps are designed to give driving directions and other location data, but Altapedia is geared more toward the classroom and for educational purposes. There are no street maps here. Instead, Altapedia contains detailed political and physical maps for all of the countries in the world. Each country's map highlights the major towns and cities, as well as geographical features, though the map images do not provide any zooming capabilities and they are all watermarked with www.altapedia.com.
7. Education Place
The Education Place maps are intended for use in classrooms as a tool for teaching geography. You can print them and copy them to use in school settings. They are outline maps of continents, countries, and states. There tends to be very little detail on the maps, so you can instruct your students to fill them in. There are versions of the maps with and without labels.
Online Maps for Every Purpose
Online maps can answer your geographical questions or help you navigate your way through a city, state, or country. Whatever you need to know about where you're going, online maps can help with traffic information, driving directions, political information, and even panoramic photos of the real world locations.