I wrote recently about my indecision surrounding the domain of information design; should detail or simplicity win out? (as always, the answer is probably somewhere in the middle - but hey, that’s boring). Google Maps and Multimap provide an interesting example of what I’m talking about.
Google’s maps are simple; straightforward; and link together yellow pages data with mapping data - together with some cool APIs that enable rip-offs (an ancient term for a mashup). However, they also strip out contextual data that any professional navigator would consider important - landmarks, land type, buildings, etc. It seems apparent that Google are trying to hit a particular market - those who find conventional maps too confusing. And to be fair, they’re doing pretty well - empirical data suggests lots of folks use them. Their reasonably robust mobile maps are also quite handy.
Multimap, on the other hand, looks backward by modern standards: a confusing array of mostly-irrelevant fluff crowds the page. They have one strong advantage, however - they provide contextual information, since they simply use OS maps (at least at medium zoom levels). OS maps are excellent for providing detailed navigation data, and Multimap seems to be the only free online provider of them.
I actually use both sites - Google when I’m searching for things (e.g. dry cleaners in Winchester, of which there turn out not to be many), and Multimap when I want a printable map to navigate to somewhere specific. I would hazard a guess that Google’s map interface was designed by someone who works in a city, as they are virtually useless outside one. Google should be able to make the additional mapping data optional as an overlay - after all, there is already a hybrid interface that mixes maps with satellite pictures. This would be a welcome improvement. Multimap should focus on cleaning up their interface if they don’t want to be run out of town.