Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, April 28, 2006

Google maps come to France (and Germany, Italy and Spain)

As announced on Google's official Blog yesterday, country maps for France, Germany, Italy and Spain have now been launched in Beta by Google.

To be honest this has been long overdue as up until now Google's only had maps of the US, UK and Japan (clearly shows the global 'pecking order' as far as Google's concerned). Although officially there's only maps been launched for France, Germany, Italy and Spain, I noticed by scrolling round the map that maps for most of the rest of Europe have been loaded (to various levels of detail) including Portugal, Greece and Poland. Unfortunately Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands don't get a look-in yet.

The level of detail (and hence I guess the source data) on all the main internet maps appears to be the same if you look at the village of La Cheze which is about 2 miles away from our Brittany Holiday Gite:

  • Google's map is the largest and I think the clearest to navigate and scroll around
  • ViaMichelin's map service has up until now been my personal preference for getting route directions
  • Mapquest's map is as actually slightly bigger than Google's but I think looks a little dated and doesn't for instance show the river and Lake
  • Multimap's map is nice and clear but the map size displayed is comparatively small
  • Mappy's map is nice and easy to read and like Google's you can just drag your 'window' left and right to scroll the map. It also has a zoom in/out mode so that one click zooms the map (unlike Google where you can only use the scroll widget). The map size is however smaller.
Mappy and ViaMichelin loose marks in my view though for not having any obvious way to copy the URL or bookmark a map page. The only way I could find to do it was to use the 'email this map' to me option on the sites.

All the maps (apart from Google) have various 'click to show nearby hotels or cash machine' buttons. Google's instead you have to type in what Entreprise (company type) you are looking for - it's more exhaustive (here for instance is a map of plumbers near to La Cheze), but as you have to type your request in French it's not all that much use of you're a tourist.

Searching for Cash Dispensers near La Cheze correctly showed the location of one in the town centre on mappy (unfortunately though it only showed one of the two that are in the town), but it was much better than Google that suggested that the nearest distributeur de billets was some 35 miles away in St Brieuc or Rennes (and there was only 28 in the whole of Brittany ...). Strangely Google declared that there were 4 cash dispenser's in Brittany (i.e. the English spelling), the nearest one being in Lorient!

I think it just goes to show that although the map data is the same, the usability and the local search features vary greatly and are still far from perfect. Google's is however a strong contender.

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