October 09, 2004

map.search.ch Launch

After an intensive time and after growing a strong love-and-hate relationship with all those bugs and buglets in the popular browser's Javascript engines, we finally launched our new Swiss map service: map.search.ch. Woohoo! :-)

Those fluent in german might want to check out the description in the search.ch blog. I spared that blog from too many technical details. If you landed here, you will have to endure it while you let me point out a few things that we are quite proud of.

Well, no, first of all, please try it out and then come back and read on. Just click to zoom (right click to unzoom) and drag to pan.

map.search.ch is completely Javascript driven, there are no Java or Flash components. And it works on all Windows IE 5 and higher, all Mozilla-derivated on all the platforms Mozilla supports, on Opera 7 (all platforms), on Safari 1.2 on Mac and on Konqueror 3.2 on Linux. The only browser with roughly 1% marketshare left unsupported so far is the Internet Explorer for Mac (those users see the static version like all those users who disabled Javascript).

The map data is a superposition of aerial photos with street contours and names. This gives the user a high level of details (down to "single tree level" where 1 pixel corresponds to 80cm) and navigational hints. And it looks great. Thanks to Endoxon for the material. This is the Eiger North Face from above. This is where Einstein wrote his theory of special relativity. This is someone water skiing on the Zurich Lake.

Now load the map and resize the browser window. Notice how the map grows and reduces with the browser window? Try fullscreen! If the map is too slow for your gusto, just use a smaller window or switch to the no-photo version by clicking the checkbox on the right.

Not that it should be too slow anyway. The map is loaded in two layers, a highly compressed jpeg layer for the photo and a transparent gif overlay for the labels and some other details. The tile number and the tile size is computed based on the map size to reduce loading time even more. That also means, that the tiles are not precropped or something, we put them together on every request and tried to still maintain a low latency throughout.

Oh, and did you notice how the back button works? It undos zoom operations. On Mozilla even reload works (works as in "doesn't bump you back to the start"). In IE we didn't find anything that can hold a state that isn't reset with a reload. Help is appreciated!

Sorry to repeat myself, but the back button works! We're a bunch of web geek and it bothered us to write an application that breaks basic web principles, so we're especially glad, that we managed to build that in.

The other important web geek feature are the cool URIs! Want to link to a map of Bern? map.search.ch/bern. Or ever wondered how eBay looks in bricks and mortar? map.search.ch/bern/helvetiastrasse-15. Use the e-mail or bookmark link in the footer to get an URI of your current map view. And link like crazy, all your Swiss addresses! :-)

Other small things: On IE the scrollbar works (use shift for horizontal scrolling), so do keyboard shortcuts on all browsers.

Other things coming in the following days and weeks: First of all crazy linking from all over search.ch, especially the phonebook. Then things like the ability to click on a hotel's roof to make a reservation :-)

Have fun exploring Switzerland from a bird's perspective!

Posted by seefeld at October 9, 2004 16:42
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crazy linking!
yes, count me in.
this is the best and fastest mapping device (i'd say that even if i'd not know you in person abnd wouldn't be biased...)
go on with this.

Posted by: habi at October 9, 2004 05:06 PM

This is the coolest web-thing i have seen in a long time! Absolutely impressed...! Congratulations!

Posted by: alain at October 14, 2004 02:42 PM

The URL to Endoxon needs to be fixed in your post.

[Done. Thanks, -B]

Posted by: Benjamin Ryzman at January 6, 2005 03:06 PM

You *must* do this for the entirety of Earth - it'd be the coolest thing ever! (as opposed to the coolest thing in quite a while)

Posted by: Greg K Nicholson at January 8, 2005 01:40 PM

another vote for the coolest thing in QUITE a while! Really REALLY good.

Posted by: manuel at January 12, 2005 08:09 PM

I'm absolutely flabergasted. Great feat with javascript! It'd be great if you posted about the innovative stuff, like the back-button working as expected.

A couple final polish nitpicks (I have no idea if these are fixable):
- The back button works, but a click on the forward button afterwards will reset the map. It should go the the view I backed from.
- The right button does zoom out, but also pops up the context menu. Is it cancelable?
- After zooming, while the image is reloading, the app stops responding. That's ok, but the coss cursor property could be changed to the 'wait' cursor, for the duration of the reload.

I'm using Firefox 1.0 on linux. Again, congratulations on an excellent product.

Posted by: Sérgio Carvalho at January 13, 2005 08:47 PM

Very nice job!
I did the UK aerial photography site getmapping.com back in 1999. Things were a little different back then and the cost of disk storage was prohibitively expensive to create such detailed levels of zoom.
I particularly like the DHTML/javascript-only client you have been able to create.

Good work!

Posted by: Mark Harwood at February 13, 2005 08:02 PM

Great job! I am very impressed by the work done. Can you give us a list of Javascript books that the developers read. This will help all the wanna-be web geeks out here.


Posted by: Radha Mukkai at June 10, 2005 02:37 PM
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