Google lit up the blogs today with what it's best at: another brilliant and cool product release. Actually, it's just a feature addition to Google Maps called My Maps, proving that even the slightest of tweaks from the mother ship is enough to get Web users salivating en masse.
My Maps is worth the hype, though. It allows you to take any Google Map and draw on it, effectively adding "cartographer"—an occupation and, for that matter, word I've always admired—to your curriculum vitae. You can add placemarks (like little push-pins), lines and shaded polygons to your heart's content, and each piece can be fully annotated via HTML with text, pictures and links, which lends itself to all kinds of incredibly useful tasks.
I dove right in and made my first map this afternoon, which is an annotated guide to my lunch hour, complete with all my favorite midday dining spots (check it out here, and if you work in Midtown Manhattan, you'll benefit nicely from my little airing of secrets). As far as I can tell you can't collaborate on maps yet, but when that feature hits everyone in the office could add their favorite spots as well. Other uses are myriad and insanely practical—customized driving directions, neighborhood guides, anything—and each map can be saved and linked to from anywhere on the Web.
It's really amazing that it took this long for a service as practical and useful as My Maps to surface to the mainstream. Or maybe there were others? If you've been making custom maps since Google was in diapers, let us know below. And we want to see how you're using your maps—make 'em public and post the links below in the comments.—John Mahoney
My Map - PopSci Goes to Lunch
My Maps Guide
If you ask me, any data placed into the context of a map instantly becomes more useful and interesting. That's why Google Maps mashups are the best, and why I went bonkers over Flickr's geotagging a few weeks back.
Well, now I've found a new love. Last night, while enjoying a frothy stout at my most beloved local beerhouse, a visiting Chicagoan told me about beermapping.com—a site that has taken up the noble task of cataloging the finest breweries, brewpubs, beer stores and beer bars in US cities (23 and counting), and plotting them all on a Google Map for easy browsin'. And we're not talking any old bar with Tuesday night Bud Light specials—these are the places for serious devotees of the hops, places whose list of Dutch Weissebiers is longer than your arm (and most bars' full rosters). Not only is it an excellent source for travelers, it can help you rediscover your own neighborhood through the eyes of an enlightened beer drinker. And seriously, what's better than a little enlightened drinking? Cheers to you, beermapping.com—this next one's on me. —John Mahoney