Boring folding maps are long gone. GPS units and Web sites offer turn-by-turn driving directions and information on nearby businesses. But lately, online maps have seen resurgence, due in large part to the success of Google Maps.
Sites can overlay data gleaned from a database onto maps provided by Google. Known as mash-ups, they are interactive. You can zoom in for easy viewing. Or find points of interest.
You can find the maps easily. On Google's home page, enter "maps" and a search term.
For example, try "maps hiking trails." Among the results are maps based on terrain, aerial photos, intensity and geographic location.
I've selected some of my favorite mash-ups. You'll find links to sites mentioned in this column at www.komando.com/news.
Locations of criminals, crime
Do sexual predators live in your neighborhood? Enter your ZIP code at Family Watchdog and click Search. You'll see sex offenders who live or work in your area.
Locations are color-coded by type of offense. Click a dot to learn more about the offender. You'll see names, addresses, aliases, convictions and more. You'll even see offenders' photos.
UCrime shows crimes on college campuses. Select a university with the drop-down box. You'll see reported crimes plotted on a map.
Click on categories to see different types of offenses. Learn more about them by clicking on a crime.
Gas Buddy makes finding low gas prices easy. It should automatically detect your location. If not, enter your ZIP code. You'll see prices for the grades of gas at local stations. Prices are tagged with a date, so you know how current they are.
Drive Pricing is perfect for planning road trips. Enter information about your trip and car. Gas prices are determined automatically. Or you can specify a price if you choose.
Drive Pricing calculates the length of the trip. It displays this alongside the total cost of gas.
Feeling a little more active? Then plot a bike ride, a hike or a walk on Map My Ride. You can view others' trails. Or sign up and create your own trails. The site also helps with fitness training.
If you're looking for a new home, try Zillow. You can search for homes for sale. Narrow searches by details like price, number of rooms and type of building.
Housing Maps is also helpful for home hunters. It maps Craigslist real estate listings. You'll find houses for sale or for rent. Select a price range or apply filters to the results.
EXPLORE THE WORLD
Online maps also open up a world of entertainment and exploration. Take Virtual Tourism. It plots YouTube videos on a map.
You can see videos of attractions from the world over. There are also videos of famous journeys such as the Orient Express.
Mindpicnic is a fun geography game. Match satellite images to their locations on the map by clicking. You'll see the actual location and how far off you are.
For even more fun, try Goggles. This flight simulator uses worldwide satellite images.
MAKE YOUR OWN MAP
Most map ideas are already available. But if you can't find a particular idea, create your own map!
You don't need to know any coding. Just visit Google's Maps. Click My Maps. Then select from a list of options to add data to the map. To see more options, click Browse Directory. Enter ZIP codes or city names to zoom in.