10 years of Google Maps: the journey from Slashdot to Ground Truth

Published on February 11, 2015

10 years of Google Maps: the journey from Slashdot to Ground Truth

Original author: Liz Gannes
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10 years ago, Google maps quickly broke into the Internet space, supplanting MapQuest, which at that time was a leader in this field. Google Maps has gained popularity by placing itself on the pages of the global network, constantly updating and at the same time not requiring users to install any software. Moreover, this gave the opportunity to use the cards to the owners of a wide variety of gadgets.


The first pancake is lumpy

Even before the 2005 beta version was released, enthusiasts gained access to maps and started their first discussions on the popular news resource Slashdot. In addition to pleasant reviews, there were serious complaints: firstly, by that time they had managed to create maps only for the USA, Canada and Mexico. Secondly, the rest of the space looked like ... the ocean! But that was only the beginning. Next, it was necessary to collect an incredible amount of data from other countries around the world. But how to do that?

The three

Google musketeers needed new resources, technologies and ideas. In 2004, the company made 3 small acquisitions: Keyhole, Where2 and Zipdash.

Keyhole was the largest of the three. They had their own technology for forming a world map based on satellite images. Images were divided into small fragments, after which it was possible to view the map with a sufficient degree of detail.

Where2 was at that time a small startup, the idea of ​​which was to display the map fragment of interest in the center of the display with the ability to scale. Their project was called Expedition.
Today it’s hard to imagine how people on the road would do without this function in online maps. However, then there was no demand for Expedition.

Google believed that maps would have great promise as a desktop, but even more so, as a web application. To speed up data transfer over the network, a new approach was developed, which consisted of a background data exchange between the browser and the web server. As a result, when updating the data, the page did not reload completely, and the web application worked many times faster. Subsequently, this technology became widespread and was called AJAX.

Zipdash is a company that has been engaged in technology for transferring traffic between mobile applications. One of their developments was a service for estimating traffic transmission delays in real time. At that time, no one dared to suggest that it was their technology that would provide the basis for the mobile version of Google Maps.

One for all and all for one

Together with Google, the teams began to work together, but each of them was engaged in its own direction: Where2 - Google Maps on the Web, Keyhole - Google Earth, Zipdash - Google Maps for Mobile.
That's when Jens Rasmussen of Where2 came up with the famous pin (Google Maps pin), which serves to mark a place on the map. This mark does not complicate further viewing of the map and, in addition, contains information about the marked place.
Keyhole’s John Hanke has proposed an improvement in satellite imaging and processing. As a result, many millions of dollars were invested in the technology for obtaining data through special channels with high bandwidth.

Moscow was not built in a day

However, the scale of this serious work was not immediately appreciated. At first, both Google Maps and Google Maps Mobile services were even ridiculously small in total. And only a year later it was possible to reach attendance rates comparable to the hype at Slapshot when the beta version was released.

But, nevertheless, by the end of 2006, 2 years after the launch, Google Maps became the first most visited online map service.
And soon, Google Maps Mobile repeated the path of his older brother.

A deal with Apple: jealousy and prejudice

The idea to strengthen the position of Google Maps in the mobile device market lay on the surface. After all, it is very convenient to determine your location, route and destinations using only one phone.


Great luck in this regard for Google was a collaboration with Apple. This has made Google Maps apps even more popular. However, the collaboration lasted only a few years. Further, their paths diverged due to numerous disagreements, Apple's mistrust of Google. Moreover, Apple was unhappy that Google began to cooperate with Android. In general, in 2012, Apple developers released their own mapping application.

3D Streets

In May 2007, Google begins work with a research team from Stanford. Together they create the Street View project, which uses 3D scanning technology. Street View allows you to make a kind of virtual 3D tour of the streets, choosing a city and country. And all this can be done without leaving your home, sitting in front of a computer or smartphone screen. At the moment, this project has already been implemented in 65 countries.

Ground Truth - X-Files

This episode of the history of Google Maps has been kept a secret for many years. In 2007, TomTom bought Tele Atlas and Nokia bought Navteq. As a result, Google was left without data providers for maps. It was decided to make their own databases and maps. In addition, new ideas appeared that required more detail from maps. Therefore, a project was launched, which was called Ground Truth. The manager of this project was Meghan Quinn.

When the first part of the work on maps for the USA was completed, Quinn sent an email to each employee with a request to test the service. For each bug found, home-made chocolate cookies were promised. “I spent the whole weekend baking cookies,” Quinn admits. “I baked 7,000!”

Now, like 10 years ago, Google is keeping up with the times. And sometimes it happens a step ahead of the rest.
No one knew what came out of the Google Maps project, and no one assumed that it would become an integral part of the daily lives of users. But the game was worth the candle, right?