Mapping Technology Before Google Maps

Mapping Technology Before Google Maps


At CorCystems Managed IT Services, we’re all about providing your business with the latest and most up-to-date technology in our slew of
managed IT solutions. We’ve been in business for the last 20 years, and to celebrate our years of service, we’re bringing you interesting facts about the changes in technology we all have experienced. 

Let’s look back at how mapping technology has developed since the early 2000s into current day. 

Paper Road Maps

Where it all began. Do you remember the days when you would take out your paper road map that was tucked into the open compartment of the inside of your car door? It was coffee-stained, creased, folded a hundred times over, and it was your greatest companion for road trips. 

Like the early days of personal computing, paper road maps were a historical achievement for everyday people. While the advent of personal computers small enough to fit on desktop was precipitated by heavy, long-term investment from national governments and private enterprise, paper maps were a by-product of the technological innovations of the Industrial Revolution, assembly line production, the internal combustion engine, and the national highway system. Unlike any other time in history, paper road maps were available to middle class families just itching to venture on the United States’s new highways.

When you planned a trip, your paper road map or atlas could show you a large picture of the area you would be traveling to. This was helpful for understanding scale and distance in a visual way. Specifically designed by mapmakers using the results of topographical surveys and triangulation, these mapmakers, formally referred as “cartographers,” would produce maps for navigational use. These maps would be produced with affordability, ease of reading, and relevance in mind.

Paper maps also allowed you to view a number of different routes and roads to get to your destination. Like the paper road maps, the hardware of personal computing allowed for lots of user customization.

As a consumer in the 1970s, you had the option to decide how the hardware would function. You could decide whether your storage and processing would be integrated on the motherboard or separated onto backplanes. This gave rise to a variety of hardware providers, like the many microprocessor manufacturers of the early computer age, like Intel, Fairchild, Rockwell, Burroughs, National, NEC, RCA, Signetics, Texas Instruments, Motorola, Zilog, National Semi, DEC, Harris, Sun, Acorn, Hitachi, IBM, and so much more.

While most everyday consumers won’t lose any sleep over not being able to customize their computers with a Zilog Z-80 or an Intel 4004 microchip processor, there’s something that’s lost when the user loses a little more option to choose for themselves. With modern mapping technology, your GPS automatically calculates the optimal route for you, but it may lead you down a boring path with no scenic views. 

Meanwhile, a paper map gave us the ability to choose our own options and take the path less taken. While this isn’t the worst fate for a modern traveler, paper road maps won’t stop working when you’re in an area without cell phone coverage. 

What was Before Google Maps: Online Web Mapping 

mapquest on computer

After the invention of the Internet and the World Wide Web, the 1990’s gifted us with sites like MapQuest and other online web mapping services. MapQuest was initially rolled out in 1996 by  R.R. Donnelley & Sons. The novel browser-based website pioneered its route-finding software for driving directions. They were able to do this through their extensive geocoded database of addresses.

MapQuest’s system utilized a proprietary, bidirectional version of Dijkstra’s Shortest Path Algorithm to calculate the short path for early website users. Basically, Dijkstra’s algorithm would translate the total distance of any possible route into a “weight” value. The weights of the edges were then compared to each other in order to determine which route minimized the total distance between the starting point and the destination point.

MapQuest’s geocoded directions digitized our real-world mess of physical addresses, business names, and landmarks into a static 1s and 0s of their associated latitude and longitude.

MapQuest provided internet users the ability to simply print out your driving route. All you needed was a computer with an internet connection and a printer to embark on your road trip.

In 2005, Google Maps surfaced for desktop browsers. In 2007, Waze followed suit with its own “interactive atlas” map. That being said, Yahoo had itself developed a digital maps solution in 2004 before Google Maps rolled into production, but MapQuest provided a superior user experience with its turn-by-turn directions.

Instead of becoming obsolete, websites like MapQuest (sorry, MapQuest), Google Maps, and Waze have all upgraded and are now integrated as mobile apps. But, you can always revisit the website and print out your directions as you once did in the past. 

GPS: The Next Integration 

dashboard gps in car

Originally, the first automotive navigation system was developed in 1981 by Honda, Alpine, and Stanley Electric, but this prototype was hardly the GPS system we are accustomed to today. The GPS system that reflected automotive navigational use and could be used to direct and guide you was developed in the 1990s and introduced by Mazda. This was the first time a driver’s position could be triangulated in real-time and a signal could be received from satellites in space. 

Map Technology Changes with Mobile Apps

Nearly two decades ago, Google Maps was introduced and our sense of navigation has changed exponentially. No longer do we need to rely on print outs or investing in expensive GPS systems when we can simply just use our smartphones. The development of mobile apps has changed how we locate, navigate, and plan our journeys. 

Google Maps first appeared on smartphones in 2007 and since then the app has added turn-by-turn satellite navigation, street view, and traffic updates. 

Compass? Map Technology Has Evolved without It

The evolution of mapping technology means that consumers have changed the way they interact with the outside world. While more often than not, there are less room for error, more efficiencies uncovered,  and faster connections discovered.

CorCystems is Your Trusted Navigator for all Your IT Needs

While no one needs a compass/map anymore to navigate their way through the world, map technology is evolving how we interact with the world around us. We hope you enjoyed this flashback of how drastically different mapping technology has been over the past 20 years. It’s also a great reminder of how long CorCystems has been helping businesses navigate through their IT needs with our expert technicians. If you need co-managed services, cloud services, or phone services, we are your go-to MSP serving the Connecticut and Westchester County area. Give us a call today to learn more about our services: (203) 431-1341.

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