In question 8 in our interview, we asked our interviewees , “When is a time you would usually use an interactive map system such as Google Maps?” A large majority of them said they used interactive maps for long distance trips. In addition to saying that, a couple of the same people mentioned that they use Google Maps for short distance trips and MapQuest for long distance. Why is this? What makes Google Maps more useful for short distance and MapQuest more useful for long distance? Also, if the majority of people use interactive maps for long distance travel, wouldn’t that also mean that a majority of people are choosing MapQuest over Google Maps?
I went ahead and did identical long distance searches on both sites to see if there’s any visual clues as to why people choose MapQuest for long distance trips. Below are screenshots of what each site offered me when I asked for directions from Highland, IN (my hometown) to Seattle, WA.
These 2 screens are just what initially pop up after you ask for directions. Both sets of directions are valid, yet give different paths to the same goal. You can, with Google Maps, drag your path around on the actual map to change your course, updating the directions in turn. Also with Google Maps, you can get a screen similar to what is shown on MapQuest by pressing the print button above the map.
So what distinct difference do I get from this comparison? Effort. People are used to the way MapQuest does things. It’s been around for a long time. You put in your location/destination and it spits out a set of directions, distances, etc at you. With Google Maps, in order to get the same information, it requires more clicks, customization, hunting for buttons, and just general effort on the user’s part.
Why do I think this matters when determining why users use Google Maps for short distances and MapQuest for long distance? For short trips, people tend to know more about their surroundings and the visual aspects of the places they’ll be going. They’re also more familiar with street names. Getting a visual like Google Maps gives on your initial search caters more towards this familiarity, offering screenshots of certain areas and the like. What MapQuest gives you on initial search, however, seems to favor those that don’t know their way around an area. It doesn’t necessarily deal with landmarks right off the bat, but it does give you icons representing turns, major highways, and exits as well as strictly a simple set of directions. Google Maps floods you with tons of visual information that may or may not be useful to someone trying to get long distance directions from the getgo and you have to search to find the simplicity that MapQuest offers up front.
So what do we do about this? I think we need to find a way to simplify the results presented on an initial Google Maps search and provide links to the neat features instead of throwing them all at the user. Maybe that would lower the initial difference shock MapQuest users will feel after using Google Maps for the first time.