East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Google: Maps or Earth?


Putting together equipment and supplies for the Karavansara Reading Challenge 2016 means – like with any exploration project – getting maps.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ll use two folding paper maps as reference, but will rely on Google for a lot of quick-and-dirty geographical information. I’d like to plot the course of our virtual travel, following the steps of Maillart & Fleming – maybe linking the posts and other external contents to the map.


And as I was trying to learn how all those marvels are done, I stumbled on a nice question: Google Earth or Google Maps?

google-mapsGoogle Maps and Google Earth are two different and separate products – even if they have been getting progressively close in terms of features and look & feel. Which one to chose for this project?

Despite its popular “Historical Street View” function, Google Maps is basically – to me – a navigation tool, a glorified street navigator like the one (that doesn’t work) on my brother’s car. Its most used feature is the turn-by-turn street navigation – and it can even provide traffic information. Not very useful for us1.
Google Maps is accessible through the web browser and on a number of devices, including smartphones. Once again it’s ok, but of little help to us.

Google earthGoogle Earth offers a higher detail and a closer look at the territory – satellite imagery is available also in Maps, but Earth features 3D rendering and higher resolution views. Basically it is a GIS – a Geographical Information System. It features layers and themes for information, and the user can add his own layers and markers. Also, Google Earth is interfaced with Wikipedia, and allows fast access to information about landmarks and places. Which is cool.
Less suitable for plain navigation, it works fine as a tool for exploration – which is exactly what we plan to do.
There is also a nifty function to access historical and vintage images. And there’s a flight simulator!
And while it is accessible through a browser plugin, Google Earth also works off-line, caching up to 2 Gigabites of information on the user’s hard disk – which given my shaky internet connection, is certainly a plus.

So, my software of choice will be Google Maps Earth (curious lapsus, what?).
I’ll try and put together some documentation and share links and how-tos, in case someone out there wants to use it and is as hapless as I am.
On the down side, the more advanced and feature-rich Google Earth Pro is apparently not available for Linux systems (why?), and therefore I’ll have to work with the standard edition. But the standard edition will be good enough, I think.


Interestingly enough, both Maps and Earth allow access to a special layer developed by the David Rumsey Historical Map Collections website – which brings to the system a selection of ancient and old maps (from 1680 to 1930).
This might come in handy.

And here we are – anything I forgot or I don’t know about?
Any other suggested resources?
Have your say in the comments… and thank you!

  1. we are 85 years late anyway – wasting a few hours stuck in the traffic on our way out of Peking will not change our virtual adventure. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “Google: Maps or Earth?

  1. Warning : spoiler

    When reading Ella’s and Peter books, and looking for waypoints in Google Earth (you wrote in your post that the software you choose is Maps, but by the context I understand that it is Google Earth), I stumbled on a book written by a French Guy, Bruno Palet “Memoire des Sables” (sur les traces de Ella Maillard)

    I do not remember if I bought it, if I downloaded it (or parts of it), but I remember that I disliked the condescending tone of the author when he spoke from the heights of French Grandeur.

    Anyway, the spoiler is that in his webpage you may download Bruno’s itinerary in Google Earth ;).

    But do not be afraid, the itinerary is “only” 800 km, this leaves a lot of places to discover


    • Thanks, Carlos – both for pointing out my weird lapsus (I corrected the post) and for the reference… I did not know about Bruno Palet’s book, and I’ll try and check it out.
      As for his Google Earth file – will be a good resource while I try to put mine together.
      Thank you again.


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