Google's addition of biking directions and bike trail data to Google Maps March 9 is one more example of the search engine giant's increased emphasis on connecting users to information, with a side of advertising.
The idea is to help cyclists plan bike routes that "avoid big hills" and other terrain unkind to two-wheeled travel, the company said. Users who wish to bike can now select the Bicycling option from the drop-down menu when they do a directions search on Google Maps.
Google surfaces information on more than 12,000 miles of trails, as well as data on bike lanes and streets for 150 cities in the United States. Read more about Google Maps biking directions and see a demo on Google Watch here.
On the surface, the move is a continuation of Google's overarching mission of organizing the world's information and making it accessible online.
The move is also part of the company's plan to get more users coming to Google Maps so as to show them advertisements from local businesses. Today when users search for places on Google Maps, such as coffee shops and restaurants, they see location balloons on the maps.
If users click on one of these balloons-say, for Starbucks-they will have the option to see more information about the coffee shop. Clicking on this option leads to a Starbucks Place Page, which provides additional information on that particular Starbucks location. Google AdWords sponsored links for Starbucks rivals such as Dunkin' Donuts appear on the right-hand side.
While not a direct business and advertising play, offering users bike directions on top of the existing driving, public transit and walking directions boosts the access points to Google Maps.
This in turn boosts the advertising potential for Google, currently the leading search engine with 65 percent market share in the United States and about 80 percent in Europe.
Moreover, with Google adding Google Latitude and Google Buzz for Mobile for use in conjunction with Google Maps for Mobile, the company is covering its social and location-sharing bases. This, too, will play into connecting consumers to businesses via Google Maps.
Steve Lee, product manager for Google Location and Google Maps for Mobile, told eWEEK that the more users Google gets for Latitude and Buzz for Mobile, the more advertising it can put in front of users. Biking directions are just another means to this end.
Of course, the biking directions are at the beta stage and leave something to be desired for some early testers. The New York Post sent one of its intrepid reporters out to test Google Maps biking directions in New York, plotting a course from 42nd Street to Hunter College.
It didn't go well, with Google apparently overlooking the "far safer Park Drive that loops through the park." Google told the Post that it doesn't have enough data on the parks, something it is working on improving.
Perhaps it's time to get those Street View trikes into the parks for a little off-road action.