A colleague of mine commented the other day on the 3D buildings that Google had introduced in St Paul, Minnestota and sounded suitably impressed. It reminded me of when I first heard about the introduction of building outlines, and then the extrapolation of them in some places to give a 3-dimensional effect. Since then I had intended to give a quick tour of the way Google represents places around the world using differing cartographic styles in different countries, largely to reflect the map conventions that people are used to in those places.
So, here goes, with a sample of places I've selected from around the world, starting with perhaps the most unique styles I've seen so far in Google maps and generally working westwards:
The Chinese maps (available through maps.baidu.com, Google's Chinese subsidiary, not through other Google Maps portals) show business locations such as KFC, with a handful of other markers used to highlight different services, each named respectively.
There are very few building outlines included and, as in most places, the streets are simple lines, many of which appear to be unnamed.
Update: I confused Baidu (not a Google business) with Ditu, the Chinese version of Google Maps. The maps of Shanghai are quite similar to the Baidu ones I described, though seemingly without commercial entities like KFC on there.
The maps of downtown Tokyo seem to be very pedestrian-centric, with prominent stores and landmarks being represented, sometimes with a logo (e.g. 7-Eleven and am/pm stores) and sometimes with a red dot and the name of a building. Some of the larger buildings are depicted in 3D though for others, just the outlines are included.
In addition, streets are shown not just as lines, as they are in most other Google cartography I've seen, but actually as they are laid out on the ground, with pavements and crossings clearly marked.
St Paul, Minnesota, United States
The downtown area of St Paul, MN is covered by 3D buildings, including all of the skyways that link together to form a vast indoor network above the ground. Further from the centre of the city, there are very few buildings to be seen.
Other than this network of pedestrian walkways, the rest of the map could be considered very vehicle centric, with no public transport information (surely there are some bus stops at least?).
New York City, United States
Downtown Manhattan Island in New York has a more extensive coverage of 3D buildings and also has public transport information included, with both stops/stations and the services that run through them. With so many tall buildings in the downtown area, especially around the central business district, it can be difficult in places to make out roads in between buildings.
Google has been extending its transit information to all sorts of new places, providing easy access from within their maps wherever possible.
London, United Kingdom
London has no building outline data, though Google has tried and failed to obtain the the information. Google and the Ordnance Survey never reached an agreement, so the excellent data sources that were built up from OS data as part of the Virtual London project aren't (yet) available to be used outside of academic circles.
The London maps also show transport information, but few other landmarks (Covent Garden Market being one).
Moscow's map depicts building outlines and their (street) numbers as well as Metro stops, though there is no embedded transport information there as of yet.
One thing I find interesting about Moscow is the delineation caused - presumably - by combining different datasets, showing stark differences in the levels of foliage in and around Moscow compared to its surrounding areas. Is that due to different ages of datasets, an actual difference in coverage up to a physical boundary, or a desire to show Moscow as being a greener city than it actually is? (Having never been there, I'm not sure which of those is most likely).