A couple of days ago I saw an eloquent “4,000 word” essay (4 photos) about the impact of clear cutting, written with the new Google Maps feature, which shows satellite photos of the map area, and allows you to zoom in and out using the same controls as the street map version.
An interesting, creative, and very persuasive use of the tool that Google created, and an illustration of how ease-of-use can change the game. Looking at satellite imagery before was either hard, expensive, or both. No longer. Anyone can do it, easily and for free, entirely on a whim. I predict similar “essays” will have a significant impact on political conversations around the US in the next two years.
Today I found a tool by Paul Rademacher that takes it one better, and showed how data from craigslist.org could be combined with the Google Maps API to create a very useful, interactive tool for shopping for rental apartments and real estate.
This is quite a step beyond using now-easily-accessible map pictures to illustrate a point; it combines data from two unrelated sources, and uses the power of Google Maps APIs to build an entirely new tool, something that Google may not have envisioned when they created Google Maps. No deals, no cross-licensing, no bizdev guys schmoozing endlessly — just one guy with an idea quickly hacking out some clever code to create something genuinely useful. This is how Google is attacking Microsoft, and in the long run it will probably work.
Of course, the power of Google Maps can be taken too far. I’m a little concerned about abuses like this.