Google offers great, useful map research tools

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I was reminded this week of how very widely the Internet has become as a research tool. A few days ago, I dropped by my friendly mechanic’s shop for him to check out a car I was buying. I found him huddled over in a corner hunched over an antique (nearly) desktop computer — surfing around eBay Motors for some car parts.

I actually wasn’t even aware the guy used a computer, and he told me he goes online several times a day just “window shopping” for various cars and car parts.

Two days later I took the used car I bought on his recommendation back to the car dealer to ask about a small rock pit in the bottom left corner of the windshield. The car salesman quickly called a shop they use to repair such windshield pitting to tell them I would be bringing the vehicle by. Then the salesman said, “Here, let me get you their address.”

I was expecting him to grab a business card or phone book to look up and write down the shop’s address for me. Nope. He walked into another room, opened Google Maps and found the address. He clicked on the appropriate link, brought up a street map, and showed me exactly how to get to the auto glass shop from his dealership.

Which brings me to my very favorite, fun Internet research tool: Google Maps and Google Earth. I’ll bet you’ve heard of them, and probably even used them yourself. The most fun thing about Google Maps and Google Earth is the “street view” feature they now offer: You can actually get a street level “moving photograph” view of most metropolitan — and may small town — addresses.

Yes. Whether you’re looking for your old childhood apartment building, an auto glass shop, some particular Panama City beach condos, or some celebrity’s hideaway — if you have a specific street address, or even just have a close by address, you may actually be able to call it up and take a look at it.

I believe most of the street view photos in the free version are probably two or three or more years old for most areas of the country. I think the paid subscription for Google Earth is probably more current.

If you haven’t yet tried Google Maps and Google Earth, I urge you to play around with it and see the marvelous fun and practical use you can find for these tools as a writer. I just finished typing the street address of one of my childhood homes into Google and took a street level view of that house and those beside it and across the street from it. The old neighborhood has changed, but it’s still recognizable 48 years later.

Take a look at this for yourself. I don’t have a link handy for Google Earth — but you can find it. Just Google it.

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