It’s like going to a fancy new restaurant with a months-long reservation list. You finally get through the portal, anticipating a remarkable culinary experience from a renowned celebrity chef. The waiter carries an enormous plate across the dining room, removes the cover from the dish with a flourish, and presents a tiny two-bite morsel plated exquisitely. "Where’s the rest of it?" you ask in bewilderment. "That is the rest of it, Sir," responds the waiter with disdain since you obviously can’t appreciate the gift that’s just been bestowed upon you. Right. That’s my initial impression of the new Google Maps.
That’s my nicer description. I’ve warmed up to it slightly over the last couple of days. It’s a step forward in some regards and a step backwards in others. I do enjoy the redesigned street map layer and the stripped-down screen that offers wider coverage. Directions between points provided new options including airline directions, with a link to low-priced airfares. I also found Street View easier to navigate and the recent imagery is stunning. Let’s just say I’m glad I weeded the flower bed in front of my home before the Street View car drove through a few months ago. It offered amazing resolution.
Is it possible to be too stripped down? Couldn’t Google add a vertical pop-up menu bar on the left or right side of the screen, like its new Explore bar along the bottom of the page, with a selection of common functions? Beyond that though, there were functions and features from the previous version of Maps that I couldn’t find anywhere. In fairness, and before I gripe too much, I recognize that my operating system and software configuration supported only "Lite Mode." Perhaps the features I missed so dearly will reveal themselves in the full-blown version or maybe they’ll roll out with the final release, or maybe they’re all right there today and hidden in some odd way?
- I couldn’t find a way to generate HTML code to embed maps in an external website. That’s a huge problem for 12MC which uses that capability extensively
- The terrain layer seemed to have been removed.
- I couldn’t find a print button with the exception of a single place — after I generated directions between points and selected the step-by-step instructions link.
- The pan disk, slide bar, and drag-and-drop man were all removed. Only a +/- zoom option remains. Actually, I probably won’t miss those much.
- Remember how hard we pushed for county lines? Gone.
The new version of Google Maps was not designed for map-heads and geo-geeks. Instead, Google’s definition of social networking takes the center stage. I understand the world marches on and I don’t want to become the person who mourned the past simply because something changed. I wanted to give the new Google Maps a fair shake and meet it on its own terms.
I attempted to share a map with my 12MC Circle on Google +. This is how it appeared on my screen:
I was hoping that I could post the results of a simple mapping exercise to a wider audience. The text (and only the text) forwarded to my G+ circle and that was the extend of it. I couldn’t find a way to send the underlying map to my Circle. Either the interface wasn’t intuitive enough or I wasn’t advanced enough in the intricacies of social networking to grasp its essential functionality. This is supposed to be a big step forward as a means to infuse geographical dimensions within social settings and I don’t know how to make the leap. Google has charted a direction and I’ve been left behind.
The new Google Maps does have a toggle that brings one to a feature they call Classic Maps. Here’s my concern: understanding that Google had no problem abandoning Reader and its millions of users, how long should one expect a toggle to remain in place for an obviously deprecated version before Google decides to pull the plug on that one too?
OpenStreetMap is Looking Better and Better
I’m left to figure out how I can replicate the functionality of what has now been typecast as Classic (a.k.a. "Old") if I want to keep producing mapping content for 12MC. Self-designed maps will be supported by Google’s Maps Engine Lite which is currently in Beta, so I think I’m safe there. However, if I need to embed a simple map — and most of what I produce falls within that category — then maybe it’s time to switch to OpenStreetMap. The example above looks pretty good, doesn’t it? Maybe that’s what I’ll do. Cobble together functionality from a bunch of different places. And yes, I’d still use the new Google Maps to create a set of directions for personal use outside of 12MC because I do like that set of features and I feel it’s genuinely improved.
My needs are simple. When I need to seek advice — like Kentucky vacation recommendations — I post a request to my website. I don’t think it’s fair to require all of you to subscribe to Google+ and then join my Circle for me to be able to do that. Therein lies my dilemma. Google seems to be refocusing Maps as a tool to push everyone in that direction.
I only want to share my little geographic discoveries. I hope the final version of the new Google Maps retains some of the prior functionality that made it so wonderful for geo-geeks. Nobody would be happier than I if I had to eat crow because my initial reactions were proven wrong.
Twelve Mile Circle picks a different state for its vacation each summer, and concentrates on an aspect of it intensely. Previous examples have included Alaska, Utah, and Oregon. The ultimate purpose of these holidays is to focus on unusual or oft-overlooked sites within the United States while sprinkling-in a few of the more famous sites as well.
The state selected for the 12MC treatment in 2013 is KENTUCKY, specifically the far southeastern corner.
View Kentucky Thoughts in a larger map
Diverse factors went into this decision. Key amongst them was my lack of county counting coverage. I’ve driven Interstate 75 through the target area and I’ve also nibbled on its western edge. As a whole, however, my time on the ground there was minimal and my county count has been decidedly lacking.
Southeastern Kentucky also offers the ability to avoid airline travel. I am completely fed-up with the airlines. I am annoyed by overly-abundant airport security hassles, I am disgusted by a complete lack of customer service and I am tired of being nickel-and-dimed with an endless parade of airline fees, each one more outrageous than its predecessors. This summer, 12MC will give the airlines the old One Finger Salute by selecting an automotive destination. It should take about nine hours — a long but manageable single-day drive — which compares favorably to dealing with an airport, flying cross-country, grabbing a rental car, and driving to a hotel.
The target area I’m anticipating includes a 20-ish county area that avoids major cities as represented on my crudely-drawn map: Adair; Barren; Bell; Casey; Clay; Clinton; Cumberland; Edmonson; Green; Hart; Knox; Laurel; Lincoln; McCreary; Metcalfe; Pulaski; Rockcastle; Russell; Taylor; Wayne; Whitley. I won’t hit every one of those counties, and I’ll probably stray outside of those boundaries for the right opportunities (including into Virginia or Tennessee). I’m still early in the research process so it’s in flux. I’m using it focus my concentration for the moment and using it as a starting point, primarily.
The map presents several possibilities even in its embryonic stage. My attention has already been drawn to all things Cumberland (e.g., Cumberland Gap, Cumberland Falls, Lake Cumberland), as well as to the Daniel Boone National Forest and to Mammoth Cave National Park. I visited Mammoth as a kid and I want to return as an adult to see if my pint-sized memories hold true. Plus, my kids love going on cave tours and Mammoth is the king-of-kings for the eastern United States.
My 12MC Complete Index didn’t present an abundance of geo-oddities within the target area, although there are a couple. I’ve shaded the map in yellow and blue to split the target between Central Time and the Eastern Time. We’ll be bouncing between time zones like on the Dust Bowl trip and that always provides a level of amusement. Plus, a time zone anomaly exists within the target area with a chunk of central time farther east than a chunk of eastern time. I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to experience the anomaly although I’d probably do it for grins if I happened to be nearby for some other purpose.
Here is the part where I consult with the wise and all-knowing audience. You’ve come through for me several times in the past, suggesting great places to visit that I never would have learned about without your input. Some of those included Capulin Volcano in New Mexico, gas stations in Oregon where I could pump my own gas, Timpanogos Cave National Monument and the ATK Rocket Park in Utah. I am certain that there must be people in the 12MC universe who have either lived in or who have vacationed in southeastern Kentucky.
What "can’t miss" spots have I overlooked? You may see your recommendation mentioned in a 12MC article in July.
The Twelve Mile Circle now has Twitter presence. I began a soft launch with 12MC’s Google+ followers two weeks ago so I could work out the details. I’m now able to post a variety of ways including by mobile phone, and I’ve successfully posted a photo from that source as well. I’m ready to take the next step and open this account to the general public. I do want to take a moment to recognize my Google+ circle — yes, I have a Twelve Mile Circle circle — for bearing with me while I worked out all of the peculiarities on my end. Thank you all for helping me with the launch.
You can find the 12MC Twitter feed at TheReal12MC.
There’s a whole story behind that account name. Obviously lots of names were unavailable because I came to the party so late. This included the existence of a musical group called Twelve Mile Circle. I first floated the Twitter idea about a year ago and loyal reader Greg posted a prescient comment: "It looks like twitter.com/TheReal12MC is available." There you go Greg, you get full credit for naming the 12MC Twitter site.
WordPress software allows an author to select the date and time and article will post to the Internet. I wrote this article on Thursday evening. Right now — if you’re reading this article the day it posts — it’s Sunday. I am on the road somewhere within the vicinity of Dust Bowl on my way to Dalhart, Texas. I have embarked upon the Dust Bowl trip that I’ve been talking about since August.
View Dust Bowl Destinations in a larger map
Why does that matter? Other than it’s totally cool and I’ve been planning it for months? Because I wanted to time the Twitter rollout with the trip so I could live tweet from the road. Expect a steady stream of random observations and blurry photographs all week long (March 18-22, 2013). Follow along while I provide commentary from a different state for five straight days. That’s your incentive to head over to Twitter right away and start following TheReal12MC. I’m probably already tweeting.
Let me shift topics just a little to comment on Google Reader. I think many of us were taken by surprise when Google announced their plan to shut down Reader on July 1, 2013. This situation has not been resolved as of the time I write this (on Thursday). It’s possible that Google may have had a change of heart when this posts on Sunday, or a better RSS reader alternative may have emerged. A huge number of 12MC readers follow this site on Google Reader. I use it myself to keep track of dozens of geo-geek sites so I face the same dilemma. I can say with certainty that the Twelve Mile Circle will continue to publish an RSS feed as long as people are able to read it, regardless of whether Google Reader exists or not.
I will also try to figure out other simple, reliable, convenient ways to share content with you. I guess I’m fortunate with the coincidental timing of my Twitter rollout because that’s one avenue the Intertubes are suggesting. G+ may figure into this too. Maybe Reddit would be another path. I will also explore whether I can set up an email subscription option. Your ideas and suggestions for sharing 12MC content in a world without Google Reader would be much appreciated.