Feature Creep is Getting the Best of Google Maps
Google’s perception in the marketplace has been that of simplicity and clean design. That notion carried over to Google Maps. It wasn’t, however, that difficult to achieve that perception because Google Maps didn’t do a whole lot. The geo arms race is chipping away at Google’s ease-of-use edifice, and simple is no longer an apt description of Google Maps.
Almost weekly, there is some new feature that is added to the Google Maps interface. Those features are cool (some more than others) but the interface is starting to look like features are being added weekly with little concern for a holistic interface to accommodate these features. In effect, things look bolted on. Specifically: New map layers are grouped poorly. Mutually exclusive map styles are lumped in with add-on layers with little indication in the interface distinguishing the two. Row after row of tab-like menus are crowding the once simple interface. …And so on.
Marissa Mayer, Google’s home page gatekeeper, once likened Google’s homepage to a really complicated Swiss Army Knife. "It’s simple, it’s elegant, you can slip it in your pocket, but it’s got the great doodad when you need it. A lot of our competitors are like a Swiss Army knife open–and that can be intimidating and occasionally harmful." The same benefit of ‘open vs. closed’ could be applied to Google Maps. It will be interesting to see how Google’s designers will tailor the interface to accept all of these new features. My sense is there are only more to come, and the interface will undoubtedly improve.
Here is an entry describing the pros and cons of Feature Creep, and some strategies for managing it.