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Google's Rasmussen on Google Maps 134

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the musing-and-supposing dept.
jbp1337 writes "During a presentation at Sydney University last week, the lead engineer behind Google Maps, Lars Rasmussen offered an interesting insight into how it all came together. Rasmussen is working on a number of AJAX applications that provide a rich desktop-like interface to the end-user from within the Web browser. Other interesting things include a Linux port of Google Earth, the company is opening a new engineering center in Sydney, and Google's design philosophy is based on end-user loyalty - not money. On the rumor of a Web-based office suite from Google, Rasmussen said he is unaware of one 'but there are 3000 people that work for Google'."
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Google's Rasmussen on Google Maps

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  • Is XUL part of AJAX? I know it has the XML component, but I'm unclear on this one. Can anyone shed any light on what AJAX is and how it differs from XUL?

  • by doodaddy (92272) on Sunday October 16, 2005 @01:43PM (#13804251)
    Does anyone else feel that the released Google Maps is worse than the beta? Interstate names are missing, printing via the print button doesn't work right, the list of streets to choose form is on the left which is awkward. The first page take 5 seconds to load often, which is not very Googlish. If you have half of your street info typed in and the page finally finishes loading, it erased your typing so far...

    I also have trouble using is from Mozilla 1.7.x but it may be because of adblock or flashblock. But this has been going on in the beta too.
  • by Fapestniegd (34586) <james@@@jameswhite...org> on Sunday October 16, 2005 @01:50PM (#13804293) Homepage
    Google's design philosophy is based on end-user loyalty - not money.

    When you sell ad space alongside your applications, end-user loyalty is money.
    • When you sell ad space alongside your applications, end-user loyalty is money.

      Exactly! So unlike other companies their business models require them to be considerate and helpful. Combine this with not actually taking money from customers at any point, and you have an environment that shareholders cannot rightfully destroy (never mind that most shareholders have non-voting shares anyway).

    • Yeah, but when you make less money than you could (say from graphical ads) you are also doing it for your users. It's a longterm thing - make your users happy by not placing colorful flashy ads, and they'll keep coming back. So yeah, it is about money, but the method to get that money is user loyalty.

      I'd say they are doing a good job based on how many google fanboys are out there
  • by slittle (4150) on Sunday October 16, 2005 @01:51PM (#13804298) Homepage
    Rasmussen is working on a number of AJAX applications that provide a rich desktop-like interface to the end-user from within the Web browser.
    Netscape had the exact same idea a decade ago (sans trendy development tools of course). "We're going to make the operating system obsolete" they said. And we all know what Microsoft thought about that, and what happened to Netscape as a result.
    • A decade ago, Microsoft had a lot of "bling" power with Windows 95, and could do no wrong in the eyes of most people. Also, the computers of that era were "adequate" or "underpowered" for what they were doing. Network connections for the overwhelming majority were limited to dial-up.

      Fast forward a decade. You have people using 1 GHz processors (and faster) just to check email and play solitaire. Memory is more abundant, browsers are more robust, and significantly more users have some level of broadband conn
    • by Anonymous Coward
      At that time, Netscape made most of their money selling software: they even sold the web browser originally, and they sold server-side software. Microsoft was very able to hurt them: by giving away Internet Explorer, they cut out all the revenue from Netcsape's browser sales (Netscape was forced to give away their browser); by bundling IIS with server versions of Windows, MS put pressure on Netscape's server sales.

      Compare with the current situation of Google vs. Microsoft. Microsoft can't force Google to
      • I stuck with Netscape as long as I could out of hatred for m$. Eventually, I could not sustain the ideological position in the face of facts, IE was better. NS sucked. I changed.

        Then when Mozilla was plainly better I switched. Then I switched to Firebird/fox.
  • by mordors9 (665662) on Sunday October 16, 2005 @02:02PM (#13804369)
    Obviously Mr. Rasmussen needs to spend more time on Slashdot and he would know that he has in fact preparing to release an office suite.....
  • by Sundroid (777083) on Sunday October 16, 2005 @02:04PM (#13804382) Homepage
    Gmail is another AJAX application, and it has immense possibilities. I wrote this comment using Gmail, checked my spelling with its spellchecker, saved it in Draft, and it is stored on Google's server, which is safer than my own hard drive.

    Web-based applications are here to stay, and if they are from reputable companies like Google and Yahoo, you know your files stored on their servers will remain there for a long time, if not forever.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Terminal computing is here to stay! It's cheaper and safer. The data is centralized, where it can be backed up by people smarter than me. Applications are updated, added, and managed for me!!! I can sit down at any computer in the lab and instantly, get everything I worked on. I mean, like, wow!

      Terminal computing ain't going anywhere, not for a long time.
      • What happens when your network goes down? Either because of an outage or because you're with your laptop and you're miles from the nearest net connection?
        • All this stuff is just about giving up responsibilty on the simplest things. Like storing your own files and making backups. Why should i want a "web app" that technically simply cannot compete with a desktop app? ... so Google gives how many Gigabytes of Mail memory, and has database search and threading ... well i have a 120 GB harrdrive here and Opera mail. Computing speed and storage was never cheaper, easier, more portable or saver than now, great free software in beer and speech is behind every corner
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Some might say that allowing a corporation to store your files forever is a bad thing.
    • and if they are from reputable companies like Google and Yahoo, you know your files stored on their servers will remain there for a long time, if not forever.
      Whether you want it or not
    • All well and good, until the US government yet again exercises their right to obtain any information held on US servers, then you might think twice about using the services if you value your privacy...

      What would be good is some kind of encryption integrated into such services, so that nobody can obtain any useful information of yours from the server, however I can't see that happening as Google would get legal flak for 'obstruction of "justice"'. Remember, if you value privacy, you're a terrorist!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Gmail is another AJAX application, and it has immense possibilities. I wrote this comment using Gmail, checked my spelling with its spellchecker, saved it in Draft, and it is stored on Google's server, which is safer than my own hard drive.

      For those of us using reliable hardware, that's not a real benefit. I could've written this reply in any of a dozen text editors or word processors on my system, spell checked it, and saved it to my hard drive, a CD, a flash drive, a floppy disk, my work's network or

    • > Yahoo, you know your files stored on their servers will remain there for a long time, if not forever. Try not checking your Yahoo mail for 3 months. Dunno about GMail but I wound't be surprised if they have a similar policy.
  • Marketing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 16, 2005 @02:04PM (#13804383)
    Google have the one thing almost no other advertiser have. User loyalty and brand identity. Who the hell *loves* ClearChannel? No one. I bet even most people that use their services would say they loved them. People never stop saying how much they love Google.

    *Everything* Google do is a way to make people look at more adverts. Providing services for users just makes more users look at them. Perhaps this is why they are the largest advertising agency in the world?
    • > *Everything* Google do is a way to make people look at more adverts.

      Slightly off-topic I know, but partly relevant. When Gmail was first released everyone was saying how awful it is that they would be scanning your emails and printing ads. Yet I've been using Gmail for about two weeks and haven't seen any ads yet, and the only ad-blocking software I use is Firefox's pop-up blocker. Is this normal?
      • Come to think of it, I'm not seeing any ads on gmail either, and I don't recall ever seeing any in the first place, either.

        Mozilla 1.7.7
      • Re:Marketing (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Baricom (763970)
        If your Gmail is anything like my Gmail*, you'll see ads in the right column when you read threads. However, the ads don't always show up when you're not discussing mainstream topics in your e-mail. Others have also found that Gmail will avoid placing ads alongside e-mails which appear to be about sensitive topics such as death.

        * Of course, your Gmail might not be anything like my Gmail because I've noticed they have several different versions deployed. For example, there's a RSS reader integrated into s
    • Re:Marketing (Score:3, Informative)

      by Lord_Dweomer (648696)
      "Perhaps this is why they are the largest advertising agency in the world?"

      Correction...they are not an ad agency, they are in the business of ad sales. The difference is that while an ad agency creates ads for clients, Google sells ad space. Just a note from your friendly local ad exec.

  • by NetSettler (460623) <kent-slashdot@nhplace.com> on Sunday October 16, 2005 @02:22PM (#13804482) Homepage Journal

    Rasmussen offered plain advice for people wanting to develop a Web application, "Don't break the simplicity of the Web" because that is what made it so popular in the first place.

    "Google has an amazing infrastructure to do this [and] we have the power to process it; all we need are engineers," he said.

    What about ethicists? How many of the people at Google are in charge of considering the impact of what they do, or do they all just assume the spread of knowledge is unconditionally good? (It hasn't necessarily worked out that way in atomic energy, for example. And even less auspicious technological advances like reverse-indexing the phone book have had mixed results sociologically. Not to mention search engines themselves, which haven't been 100% positive in their privacy impact.)

    Knowledge is not Wisdom. The Ability to do something is not the Right to do it. Were it so, terrorism would be utterly defensible because it pretty uniformly involves the use of knowledge and ability to take some action that serves the selfish or thoughtless need of the person doing it. What stands between terrorism and righteous/respected power is not ability but ethics--not the knowledge of how to do something, but the wisdom to know when not to do something.

    Note that I have not called the Google folks terrorists nor said they shouldn't do what they do. I'm just tired of seeing stories about what Google can do, and I'm interested in seeing more stories about how Google itself decides what is good and bad for it to actually do. Is it really mere lack of engineers that is holding them back from doing arbitrary things? Or do they factor in issues of privacy, security, morality, etc. into their basic design. I'd love to see some stories about that because in stories like this one here, it always seems to be a lacking element. Is profit motive and national law all that the world needs to adjust in order to assure that our collective sensibilities are not violated? If something is not illegal, is that an invitation for Google to do it (ready supply of engineers permitting, of course)?

    I don't think they only need engineers. I think they also need ethicists. What I don't know is whether they think that.

    • You know, engineers have ethics too...
      • You know, engineers have ethics too...

        I never said they didn't. (Nor that they did.) Engineers are people. Some are ethical, some are not. On the whole, probably most are ethical just like any other cross-section of society. But engineers do not have the power to enforce their ethics.

        If I, as an engineer at a search engine company, told my boss that I didn't think I felt ethically good about some product we were deploying, I'd feel my job was on the line. It's not like there's a federal protecti

    • The same kinds of concerns you raise could also be used with respect to libraries or even printing presses. Progress is impossible without limited negative consequences. The important thing is that the negative is out balanced by the positive and that deliberate evil should be avoided. I may be naive, but I believe Google when they claim they try not to do evil. I think they are actually unusual among US corporations in having that attitude.
      • I believe Google when they claim they try not to do evil

        I don't know if I'd believe or disbelieve such a statement, but I've not seen it in so plain a form. But even then, to "try" is an interesting thing. In a person, I take it to imply that meaningful amounts of energy are expended toward the acheivement of the stated goal. So what really interests me is how they implement it. Trying not to do evil has to be more than simply an accidental effect of getting probably-well-intentioned people togethe

    • What they should do? Google is a corporation. That is, they are a legal entity which was created for the purpose of creating value and limiting the liability of a group of owners. It's mandate is to do whatever it is capable of doing in pursuit of creating additional value for the owners.

      Why would Google have Ethicists 'in charge' of considering the impact of what it does? Ethicists function best when they are able to independently comment on the actions of such corporate entities in a forum conducive t
      • What they should do? Google is a corporation. That is, they are a legal entity which was created for the purpose of creating value and limiting the liability of a group of owners.

        I am not limited in my commentary to only asking questions for which there are easy answers. Nor is the only possible result of my commentary (or a discussion in which my commentary is just one of many posts) a change in Google. It might be that indeed a change in law is needed. It might be that through talking, I come to a

        • But, in point of fact, I don't take it as fixed that corporations must have as their sole goal the instantaneous enrichment of their stockholders.

          Not a businessman, are you?

          If a corporation spent greater than 0% of their resources on something that was not profit-related, then the corporate officers need to explain to the shareholders why that money was spent, and how it will lead to increased profits (like Apple donating computers to schools, for example; it was a short-term loss, but resulted in n

          • If a corporation spent greater than 0% of their resources on something that was not profit-related, then

            By "I don't take it as fixed", I meant: "rules/laws can be changed", not "people should ignore rules/laws". They might not get changed in practice, but I don't limit my discussions of how the world should be to only situations that hold all laws constant nor even to those things that I think I can personally change. A great deal of important change in the world comes from changing laws, whether it'

    • If something is not illegal, is that an invitation for Google to do it (ready supply of engineers permitting, of course)?

      The Constitution of the United States states that, if something is not illegal, then, yes, it is an invitation for anyone to do it!

  • by SuperBanana (662181) on Sunday October 16, 2005 @02:36PM (#13804563)
    Rasmussen is working on a number of AJAX applications that provide a rich desktop-like interface to the end-user from within the Web browser.

    Too bad the only thing going for Google maps is that it is pretty (antialiased graphics, map can be as large as you want) and lets you pan. That's really the ONLY thing that is innovative about it- not even the "use google maps for displaying stuff from your site" is innovative; Yahoo and Mapquest have been doing this for years.

    • You cannot save addresses (such as your home address).
    • You cannot change the route or set preferences (ie avoid toll roads etc).
    • You can't see traffic or construction information.
    • You cannot do multi-point routes. Ie go from your house to Jane's house and then to the movie theater. Laughable, except that's something people want to do quite a bit.
    • Interstate numbers and road names are not shown nearly enough. Except for major highways, Google uses uncommon, unmarked road names. For example- headed into Tufts University, you take Route 2 to Route 16, and that is how they are marked on the streets. But Google Maps refers to it as "route 2 to Concord Turnpike to Alewife Brook Parkway. 99% of people in Boston would have no idea where "Concord Turnpike" is; 95% of them don't call Route 16 anything but "16", and it's not MARKED anything but "16"!
    • Local search is almost worthless. It only finds addresses which are on websites (was it too much effort to buy a yellow pages directory database?) and when you do a search and specify "in the map area below", it promptly COMPLETELY ignores you and shows you have a effing STATE.
    • Printing prints a LOW RESOLUTION version of the big map. Great, so I can tell I'm going from somewhere in the middle of Massachusetts, to somewhere in the middle of Boston, via the mass turnpike. Wonderful.

    Funny thing, but MS Streets has NONE of these problems- it's not perfect, but it is FAR superior to Google Maps in useability and features people need; it has a nice way of compressing the map into a page, it's high resolution, saves addresses, does a near PERFECT job of finding "what's within the radius circle I draw", and it uses both route numbers and the uncommon road names. Nothing sets Google Maps apart from its web-based cousins, either- except for the basic map display. It certainly hasn't revolutionized online maps.

    • "Local search is almost worthless. It only finds addresses which are on websites (was it too much effort to buy a yellow pages directory database?)"

      Why can't I find a particular business listing in Google Local? [google.com]

      Where does Google Local get its information? [google.com]

      Aside from the ms remark (can't comment on that), the rest of your points are quite valid. So everything that google touches doesn't turn to gold, what a relief.

    • Completely agree: I never use Google maps, I stick with Multimap. No fancy Ajax interface, a smaller viewable map, and a lot more (offensive) adverts, may seem to make this a weird choice, but there's another point you didn't mention which swings it for me:

      Google's projection simply f#&%ing sucks!

      I can't stand it, it looks ridiculous and almost unrecognisable compared to both the world as I know it and other maps (OS, etc) that I've already seen.

    • OK, I can't decide which I want, the slick GUI in MSN Virtual Earth [msn.com] or the color satellite photos in Google Maps [google.com], while MSN still only has B&W in places. I've spent some time comparing the map data in MSN and Google, and I think there are places where each is better than the other, but no clear winner in all cases. At least I like that Google Maps is asking its API users to submit error reports. But I also like the 'scratch pad' feature in MSN compared to the ballons in Google maps. Oh well, freedom of
    • I'll come out and say it: You're Wrong.

      Funny thing, MS Streets has NONE of these problems ...

      Funny thing, you mean the MS Streets [microsoft.com] that costs $40 and isn't accessible from any computer except those on which it is installed? That's what I thought... Concerning MSN MapPoint, MapQuest and Yahoo! Maps, they all get it wrong: PEOPLE HATE USING FORMS. Seriously. For every additional form input I have to fill out on a site, I hate using that site 10x more. Not only do all of the above have multiple forms you h

    • There's a few hidden warts under the pretty veneer.For example, Google Earth uses a sphere instead of a proper coordinate space, making it silly to try read absolute location values. I am also (from first hand tinkering with the maps API) a bit dubious of connectivity via published standards (aka WMS, WFS).

      My fear is that we'll lose a bunch of basic functionality in the rush to get pretty user interfaces.

      Xix.
    • I think you are forgetting a pretty major issue.

      You can't visit continental Europe.

  • Wonder if one of them could find time to update their maps data to be correct. I'm in the UK - put in my postcode and it has me in a completely different town. Reported as a bug about three months ago (within a week of Google Maps UK launching, don't know exact date), reported by others since and still more people I know have reported that they've been placed incorrectly too.

    It's the only mapping service to get me in the wrong place. Streetmap.co.uk is fine, multimap.com is fine, the MS one whose name tem

  • You misspelled AJAX. It is supposed to be spelled j-a-v-a-s-c-r-i-p-t. What you memers call "AJAX" is some company's rebranding of existing javascript functionality that's been around for years. Please stop.
    • It's spelled e-c-m-a-s-c-r-i-p-t [wikipedia.org], or even better, d-h-t-m-l [wikipedia.org].

      And I agree-- 'ajax' is a marketing term. Even those guy who coined the phrase admitted it [adaptivepath.com] (see the Q/A at the bottom).
      • You were right up until the part about DHTML, which is exactly the same thing as AJAX: A buzzword for things which already exist. What is DHTML but the combination of HTML with CSS/DOM scripting?
    • Guess what, whether or not AJAX should be called AJAX... it is now.
      Someday it will even be Ajax.
    • Honestly, who cares, besides grammar Nazis? It's easier to say than x-m-l-h-t-t-p-r-e-q-u-e-s-t or even x-h-r. Does it really matter if some company came up with the name? It's not like they "own" AJAX - it's up to the people whether they choose to accept it, and looks like the people have chosen.

      Besides, AJAX is not simply JS. In fact, the key component of it doesn't need JS - in IE, VBScript can do "AJAX", and later once Mozilla integrates Python support, soon Python can do "AJAX". Now, this does make t

  • Yep...we've doubled the rate of the google articles on slashdot. Seems, that there's now one "google is awesomers!" post, and one "google is so popular it is making corrput governments worried post."
  • Like a secret society you have to know how to pick up on their clues.

    >Rasmussen said he is unaware of one 'but there are 3000 people that work for Google'.

    He is wrong about the latter, so he must be wrong about the former as well! Maybe he discovered something that he wasn't supposed to, so he left some mental hints lodged deep in his brain to remind himself of what he is aware of.

    See, Google is much cooler than Microsoft.

  • I didn't notice anything of this end-user loyalty when Google switched from the old Google Groups to the new layout & design. The old, loyal user base cried out against this move but Google didn't listen.
  • I've seen a few articles on it but what I'm really interested in is how they do the scrolling. I'd like to build a slideshow based on the same priciples: load only the image the browser is currently showing and when the user scrolls the image left or right, load the proper image and get rid of the older ones. I've seen all the buzzwords (xmlhttprequest,dhtml,xml, ajax, etc.) but not any actual examples of code.
    Cheers.
    • Some Google folks gave a talk at my school. The map is made of tiles that extend well beyond the edge of the display...when you drag to the right, the tiles on the far left are moved to the far right and new images are loaded inside them.
    • I'd like to know how MS implements NTFS. I hear it's a form of C++ and .NET.
    • I was actually at the talk Rasmussen gave at the University of Sydney. He gave quite a good explanation of how it all works. I wrote about it here: http://freespace.atomicscript.com/ [atomicscript.com]. Note, however, that I'm not a web developer or particularly good with javascript, so my interpretation of what he said could well have errors.
    • It is actually pretty simple (a similar scheme was also used for old C64 games with sprites).

      1. you devide the visible map in tiles.
      2. every tile is an image; it has a x/y poition on the screen and a source url, which "points" to the correct sub image of the map
      3. when you drag the map around you just change the positions of the tiles
      4. when a tile leaves the visible area you "reset" it (the x/y position and the url) and set its position to the other side
      5. you make the map larger than the visible area in o
  • thats all i have to say about that...

  • That guy mentions a lot his crystal ball in the interview. What a poor chap.. I hope his other ball is real.
  • Lars must be doing the rounds in Sydney. Just the other week he did this same presentation at Macquarie University [mq.edu.au]. Rob Pike was there too.

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