Justin O’Beirne

Justin O’Beirne: Essays, Book, and Contact Information

What Changed?

⚠️ Tap or click any image to enlarge


When Google rolled out its recent changes, it overwrote its old map, leaving us no way to see what it used to look like.

But thanks to our Comparison, we have an ace in the hole: a detailed record of how the map used to look at each zoom in New York, San Francisco, and London:

Let’s take one of our cities and do a quick sweep across each zoom.

Since our Comparison has had more readers in San Francisco than any other city, let’s use San Francisco. We’ll start with z2:

Here at z2, the changes are subtle: the water color is slightly different and the shadow along the coastline has been removed. But apart from those changes, we see all the same things as before: the same countries and oceans are labeled and all the same lines are drawn.

Let’s go to z3… 

Here again, we see all the same things as before: all the same lines and all the same labels.

Let’s go to z4...

Just as we saw on z2 and z3, z4 also has all the same lines and labels as before.

In fact, if we look at the entire first half of our San Francisco zooms (z2 — z10)…

…we see the exact same things as before:

Not a single label has changed across our first nine zooms. And it isn’t until we get to z11 that we see any change at all...

At z11, our map is almost the same as before — except for a small change at the bottom. Do you see it?

The changes here at z11 mark the start of a trend—and as we continue across our remaining zooms, we see a number of other label changes:

All the zooms from z11 onward seem to have some sort of label change (unlike the first half of our zooms, which had no changes at all):

So with all of the changes, how different is the map now?

Let’s count the number of label changes on each zoom:

Across all of our San Francisco zooms, 28 labels have been added, while 38 labels have been removed—giving us a total of 66 changes.

But even though there have been 66 changes, only five zooms have a different number of labels than before:

Surprising, isn’t it?

What kinds of labels have been added and removed?

Let’s divide the map’s labels into seven categories...

... and count the changes:

Just four kinds of labels have seen changes: CitiesCity Sub-AreasRoads, and Places

But spread out across eighteen zoom-levels, none of these changes seems particularly significant—or even noticeable. In fact, the map’s overall character is nearly the same as before:

And even when we tally the map’s Places by category, we see the same general mix as before:

How can there be 66 changes, and yet the map looks the same as before?

What seems to have happened is that most of the additions and subtractions we saw earlier have simply cancelled each other out.

So from a content perspective, there’s been little change as to what’s on the map: the same kinds of things are on the map and in nearly the same amounts. And all of our earlier observations from our Comparison remain true – at least for now...


*   *   *


It’s surprising that so little has changed. But then again, this is exactly what we saw earlier: Google makes slow, gradual changes—never changing anything too quickly.

So if history is any guide, Google will likely continue making changes in the months ahead.

Let’s stop and reexamine the map a few months from now...



© 2016  Justin O’Beirne  ·  Contact