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Book Review: Google Maps Hacks by Rich Gibson and Schuyler Erle

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Everyone knows Google Maps. Google has gone out of its way to make Google Maps something that everyone knows about, uses, and talks about. There are blogs that are just about all the mash-ups and hacks people have come up with for it.

And now, O’Reilly has released Google Maps Hacks, showing how anyone can use the Google Maps API for their own benefit, with a little help.

The book starts off with a basic tutorial on how to add a Google Map to your site — if you’re going to mash up, you have to have something to mash, after all! It also shows you (in Hack 27) how to use Greasemap to add Google Maps functionality to any web site (assuming you’ve already got Greasemonkey and Firefox is your browser). As with all hacks books, Google Maps Hacks includes some basic hacks that just about anyone can do (and points to some great places to see great hacks already done!), and some that are going to require a bit of work and programming skill.

There were several hacks in the book that I really loved. First, the book pointed me to a site promising to show me where I could find cheap gas. They’ve integrated Google Maps with GasBuddy to create something incredibly useful, though I wish it were updated more often. (My local station hasn’t been updated since September of 2005!)

To use the really good hacks, you’ll need a GPS. Many of the mash-ups are best used when you’re out on the road. Hack 35 shows how to dump Google Maps data to your GPS system, and #37 shows how to reverse that process and import your GPS Tracklogs to Google Maps.

The most useful part of the book, though, is when we get to see how various mash-ups work. It’s one thing to see a great use of the Google Maps API, it’s another thing completely to understand how that’s done so that you can do it yourself. And that’s really what’s valuable about the Hacks books — you’re shown how something is done, so you can take that understanding and apply it to what you want to do. That’s what hacking is all about — information and application of that information in new ways.

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