A fun Google Maps experimental tourist tool that could grow up to be a valuable work tool


The best feature of the experimental Google Maps City Tours may now
be the “remove” button. But with some time and tweaks,
this could be a great sight seeing — or business planning — tool.

Via Seach Engine Land and Steve Rubel comes word of a new Google Labs experimental project called City Tours (http://citytours.googlelabs.com/search). And by “experimental,” Google Labs really means experimental, as in it’s not ready for prime time and it may not become a real product. As I’ve written before, Google tries things all the time that don’t work and which they then discard — that’s a big part of why they are so successful.

Given some time to let the features evolve, I believe this could be an incredibly helpful tool — and not just for sight-seeing, but as a valuable logistics tool for certain kinds of businesses.

In essence, it mashes up several features already found in Google Maps: Google Maps advanced search features that most people never discover (i.e., map search queries like “category:”Museums” loc: Nashville), the personalization of “my maps,” the ability to override Google maps’ suggested directions by moving push-pins, data from walking directions and ratings and review data. City Tour takes all those mashed up features and presents them in a metaphor that results in what could be a helpful way to plan an itinerary of a multi-day of sight-seeing in any city. You start by merely typing in the name of a city or you can search for a specific address.

Because my hometown of Nashville is a tourist destination for many (locals, however, consider it a badge of honor to claim they’ve never visited many of the places tourists come to see), I decided I’d check out the default suggestions of a search of Nashville. Other than jumping in the car to drive out to something near the Opryland Hotel called the Willie Nelson and Friends General Store and Museum, I can understand why the default locations were selected. However, there is a means to override anything the map suggests (Add/Remove sights), so the default sites are merely placeholders. (I assume the sites recommended may change as the ratings data users contribute “vote up” or “vote down” specific locations.)

But this is a work in progress — early in the work’s progress: the “experimental”-ness of City Tours can be seen if you try to add a visit to one of Nashville’s museums that’s actually worth a visit — the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson, the map assumes you’re referring to the Hermitage Hotel, home of the best restroom in America. (Hint: search for Hermitage Museum to get the real Hermitage.)

More importantly, by changing some metaphors related to what one can use a map like this for — in this case, it’s a vacation planning tool — this type of tool could evolve into a delivery planning tool for business that could provide a low cost (or free) alternative to super-expensive logistics systems certain delivery-intensive businesses need. Take some of the same set of features and call it “small business delivery planning map” and you’d have a hacked (but obviously, greatly simplified) version of the routing instructions a UPS delivery person is handed each day (actually, it’s on a computer in the truck) that, reportedly, is so efficient, it minimizes left hand turns in order to save gas and drive-time.

With a few tweaks, this could be an incredibly helpful — and extremely valuable (time=money) tool for helping small service businesses that dispatch workers (i.e., repair service companies, deliveries) plan their workers intenerary. It won’t challenge UPS and others who sell high-end systems for certain types of companies, but it could be a killer application for a fleet of 3-4 trucks — or larger.

In the mean time, the experimental version could be fun to play with in planning a trip — and even more fun for locals to criticize for what the default version suggests, or doesn’t.