How the new Google Maps redesign came together

Last week Google unveiled a new version of Google Maps, which includes native Google Earth support without the need for a plugin.  One of the other big pieces Google is working to include is a map that is customized specifically for each person.  As TechCrunch shared, the idea was similar to drawing a map on a napkin:

When you draw a map on a napkin, you are automatically filtering out the most important information, and doing it with your specific audience in mind. The result is a simplified map, that involves maybe a few major routes, as well as smaller roads, and a prioritization that doesn’t necessarily reflect how important a road is to the general population.


The way Google is making it happen is quite amazing:

First, for a specific location the new Maps algorithm will analyze the entire set of people looking for directions in that area, and then highlight the routes that come up most often. Then from that subset they’ll focus in even further and weigh more vs. less important routes, based again on aggregated user data. They can see which roads are more popular, and then pop those out vs. the less important ones. Finally the less important ones are cut away, and you’re left with something resembling the hand-written map.

That then informs the UI rendering of the Map itself, which still retains the street markers for all surrounding routes. Lines along routes important to getting there are made bold and lines on less important streets are thinned out, but not removed in case some users still require that information. It’s about drawing attention and changing perspective, not eliminating something altogether.

While this approach requires amazing levels of computing power from Google, it keeps the impact on end user’s computers even lower than past versions, since less data needs to be sent out.

It was an impressive and informative talk, and I highly recommend you check out the full article on TechCrunch to learn more.

About Mickey Mellen

Mickey has been using Google Earth since it was released in 2005, and has created a variety of geo-related sites including Google Earth Hacks. He runs a web design firm in Marietta, GA, where he lives with his wife and two kids.


  1. Mickey – A recent post on states that “The new Google Maps requires a lot more resources, especially more RAM, so it’s not a great idea to use it if you have an old computer” and (with apologies for repeating this), official Google page
    explains that you will not get Google Earth in your browser if you do not have a bang up to date operating system. Instead you will get a “lite” version of the new Maps, but it is not clear whether this will still provide Earth view via the plug-in (does anyone know?).

    So I wonder if it is really correct to say that the impact on the user’s computer is “even lower”

  2. Mickey – thanks for a very interesting link which gives yet another perspective of the new Maps, but I think it shows that Google may be doing too much to produce a map on a napkin, and may end up obstructing interpretation of the very rich set of data currently in Maps by those who do not think like the Google algorithms or, say, want to find photos by non Google criteria.

    Also, while the running of the algorithms may have no impact on the user’s computer, the new Maps is apparently heavy on resources on the user’s computer, hence the “lite” version being provided for less powerful set ups, and not providing Google Earth in the browser.

    • Apologies for repeating the point in the last paragraph of my second comment – it happened because my first comment did not appear for a while after I posted it, and seemed to have been lost.

  3. The session “Behind the Scenes of Google Maps” is now available on YouTube:

Leave a Reply