Google Maps Origin Story (2003-2004)
Google Maps started humbly as a hand-sketched pipe-dream on a whiteboard in Sydney, Australia, and mushroomed dramatically enough to become a key foundation of the world’s information infrastructure. It has more than a billion users, and millions of miles of streets are now captured on Google Maps across the world.
Motorists, city strollers, map-worshippers and cartography nerds should thank Danish-born Jens and Lars Rasmussen, acknowledged by Google as the creative forerunners of Google Maps.
In 2003 they created a “tile server” -- a software application called Expedition that by 2004, under the corporate name of Where 2 Technologies, could be downloaded on desktops to deliver map tiles to their clients. After Google acquired Where 2 in October 2004, Where 2 became accessible from the Web, and both Rasmussens worked on the team that ultimately launched Google Maps.
While the brothers Rasmussen were toiling away on Google Maps, Google previously incorporated local listings into its search results, in the form of a product called Google Local. Google Local displayed business listings and points of interest, but was not integrated with a Google-owned map yet, instead showing the listings on MapQuest.
Google Local results (2004)/Source: googlepress.blogspot.com
Local results on MapQuest (2004)/Source: googlesystem.blogspot.com
Google Maps Launched (2005)
Maps was released fully to the public on February 5, 2005 for the US. A major innovation from the initial launch was the “dragable” map. This enabled users to click and drag the map display across the screen to view nearby areas, without having to wait for those adjacent graphics to load onto the screen. This was a huge advance over the crowded field of mapping competitors at the time, such as MapQuest, Mapblast.com and AAA (a paid service), and Rand McNally (a paid service). It also enabled zooming with plus and minus keys. In fact, in the first year the product was live, it underwent significant changes and new features were added constantly, such as satellite imagery, public transit directions, and even the surface of the moon.
Later in the year, Google integrated the local seach results into the map and added driving directions. Google Maps was renamed Google Local for a short time.
Google Maps for Mobile (2005)
While the desktop version of Google Maps was gaining momentum, Google's vision for the product was much more ambitious. A Java version of Maps was being tested on mobile devices such as Blackberry, Palm, and Windows CE. It had the bare essentials for a mapping app, and lacked the elegance of the modern interface due to the lack of touchscreen capability on those older devices. Still, it was ahead of its time in mobile cartography and leveraged Google's large database of business listings.
Due to the richness of the product, Version Museum will have a separate in-depth history page for Google Maps for Mobile. Stay tuned.
Public Transportation Integration (2005)
Google began working with public transit agencies to incorporate train and bus schedules into the product, expanding the overall utility of the service for general travel purposes. Coverage was extremely limited at first but grew dramatically over the years.
Hurricane Katrina Imagery (2005)
Google also realized early on how the Maps product could be used as a force for good. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which devastated New Orleans, Google had a special Katrina mode that showed images before and after the hurricane.
Google Earth Launched (2005)
A related product, google Earth, was released in June 2005. Based on technology from they Keyhole acquisition, Google Earth was a standalone free software download made available to all who wanted to use it. Over the years, Google Maps and Earth both used the same imagery, but were separate products. Maps was browser-based, while Earth was a separate app that ran on desktops, tablets, and phones. That is, until Google essentially merged the two by creating a browser-based version of Google Earth in XXXX.
Moon Imagery (2005)
Google was a whimsical company in its early days, and this illustrates it perfectly. A few months after Maps launched, a few google engineers had the idea to use the platform to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing. As a result, Google Moon was launched on July 20, 2005, to display imagery of the surface of the moon. Apparently, this feat was pulled off in a week. And better yet, if you zoomed in all the way, the moon turned to swiss cheese, delighting children everywhere. The moon imagery is still alive today, and more has been added over time.
Google Moon Imagery (2005)/Source: astroarte.apaaweb.com
Google Moon Imagery Swiss Cheese (2005)/Source: quora.com
International Expansion (2006)
Google quickly expanded the country footprint for Maps in 2005 and 2006, launching maps for the UK, Japan, Canada, Germany, and Ireland. In 2007, it expands to another 54 countries in Asia, Central America, and South America.
Maps in Search Results (2006)
In late 2006, Google was confident enough in the Maps product to integrate it directly into the main Google.com search results.
Traffic Density (2006)
Traffic was displayed in select cities starting in 2006, with coverage expanded over time.
Street View (2007)
Sears Tower in Street View (2007)/Source: googleblog.com
LA Disney Concert Hall in Street View (2007)/Source: maps.googleblog.com
Easter Eggs (2007)
The playful side of Google Maps continued to be expressed in the form of clever Easter eggs. When searching for driving directions between locations in the United States and Europe, the service included a step to "swim across the Atlantic Ocean."
3D Buildings (2007)
Google Earth, the standalone desktop application, began incorporating 3D building designs into its imagery in 2006. Popular buildings in major cities were ported into the web-based Google Maps interface in 2007.