Geography on the Internet

By kfreelskfreels (1261533114|%a, %b %e at %I:%M%p)

I love the internet. There's so many things you can do and learn from it. The best part is, I probably know 1% of everything that's out there. I'm sure there are hundreds of sites that I would find fun, interesting, and useful that I don't know about yet. One thing that the internet has helped people do so much better is explore different geographic locations outside of the town, state, or country they live in. Today I'm going to use some of the geography-based sites on the internet to learn more about San Francisco, CA, where I'll be living this summer!

Travel Sites

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Kayak

Kayak is a travel search engine that aggregates information from a lot of other travel sites and helps the user find the cheapest flights, hotels, cruises, and rental cars. Users don't actually make reservations through Kayak. Kayak just links to the source of the flight, hotel, cruise, or rental car deal and makes its money off of advertising.
Kayak is amazing and I'm definitely going to use it next summer. One of my favorite features is the Deals section. I can periodically check it for great deals for hotels and vacations in California or anyplace else. As you can see on the right, the deals are listed and can be sorted by relevance, popularity, price, destination, or newest. Another awesome thing is that I can sign up for weekly deal emails to be sent to me that are tailored to my home airport.

So if I'm looking to take a weekend trip, or my mom needs a hotel to stay in next summer, I can head to Kayak to find great deals from all over the internet. You can also explore the deals by interest, with choices like all-inclusive, family, golf, romantic, or resort & spa. Of course, you can also use Kayak to search for specific flights, hotels, and other services and find the cheapest options, or the options that best suit your needs.

Goby

Goby allows you to "create your own adventure". It's a pretty cool site that allows you to search for activities, restaurants, events, and places to say in a city during a specific time period. While I would like to think that I could easily and succinctly describe how Goby works, the CEO probably does it better in the following video:


I think that thoroughly explains what you need to know about Goby but here is how I used to it to find things to do in the San Francisco area. First off, I wanted to find a beach. Who lives in California for the summer and doesn't go to the beach? After searching for "beaches" in San Francisco, I moved the "my location" point on the map closer to the Pacific Ocean. Goby had 76 results for me, the first 15 of which made me want to go to California now, instead of waiting until next summer! The only kink I noticed in Goby's system is that since it pulls the information from hundreds of travel and destination sites, some results, like Ocean Beach in San Francisco, are listed multiple times. This isn't necessarily a bad thing because it could indicate the popularity of the attraction and offer links to different discussions about it, but the negative aspect is that you don't see 15 unique results on the first page at Goby.

I also decided, just now, that I'm going to drive up highway 1 next summer and tour some wineries on the north coast. So I went to Goby and searched for just that, wineries on the North Coast, CA! Goby came back with 23 results, all of which looked delectable. One thing I liked on Goby was that as I scroll down the page to see the various wineries, the map that shows where they all are and where "my location" is scrolls down too. So you can easily change your location! Goby is definitely useful for someone just looking for something to do, especially when they don't know the area!

Local Search Sites

MSN City Guides

City Guides are like home pages for a city or area. When you log on, it automatically recognizes where you are or takes you to your last searched City Guide. It includes weather forecasts, customized search for businesses, movies, and events in the area, features nearby restaurants and events, shows a map highlighting hot spots around the city, and includes related videos, editor's picks, and local information on a multitude of topics. It's a one stop shop for city life! Here's a snippet of what the site looks like:

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My favorite part of the site is the ability to explore the city events. City Guides lets you find concerts, festivals, and other events, find movies playing near you, and discover the hot restaurants in town. Want to see the Nutcracker? Go on a Golden Gate Bay Cruise? Ice skate in Union Square? Find a golf course? MSN City Guide can help you do that and so much more.

I definitely see myself using City Guides this summer. The only things I didn't like were that you can't narrow your search of restaurants and other events to a specific address. Also, just to note, you do have to sign up as an MSN member and sign in to use many of the services.

When.com

Like MSN City Guides, When.com is a local search engine that tells you "where to go, and what to do". It also recognizes your location or your last searched city, so when I open up the page it automatically goes to San Francisco, CA. You can browse When.com by type (i.e. Arts & Crafts, Fairs & Festivals, Music, Dance, etc.), or by broader sections (i.e. Events, Movies, Restaurants, etc.). You can also narrow your search down by the broader section you're looking for.

When.com has a lot of great features that I think make it better than MSN City Guides. First, it has a section for free events! Who doesn't love free events? This will be helpful next summer when I'm spending all my income on rent and don't have a lot of discretionary funds. Also, for all events it has an option for the user to add it to their calendar (the only mainstream one it didn't include was iCal - but I'm a Google Calendar kind of girl anyways). In the Restaurants section, it includes dining deals and coupons. The fact that When.com has so many unique categories and types of events is extremely useful. When.com will also be a weekly, if not more often, visit for me this summer when I'm looking for things to do!

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Road Trips and Driving Sites

Waze

Waze is a "social mobile application" that combines a map of traffic with user-generated reports on commuting issues. Waze is best utilized as a mobile app, on an iPhone for example, but for now I'm just exploring the website to see how helpful it can be. To see an in depth explanation of what Waze is and how it works, watch the tutorial on this page. In short, Waze tracks traffic through the GPS coordinates of its users' phones. In addition, users can submit reports about accidents, hazards, and construction.

Looking at the Live Map on Waze.com, I wasn't all that impressed. Here's what the map looked like for San Francisco, which is generally pretty busy with traffic. Those red lines represent heavy traffic, and the orange lines moderate traffic. The construction barrel symbol is a user-generated report about road construction on a particular street. The side bar has scrolling updates that tell you which streets have heavy or moderate traffic, and give you the average speed of drivers.

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Now, it Waze's defense, it's Sunday morning at 9am in San Fran, so it could very well be that there's just no one on the road! But even searches for Chicago and Detroit didn't turn up too much traffic, and it's noon here. The problem with Waze is that its success and usefulness factor is based on how many people use it. The more people who use it, the more information they have about travel time and traffic jams, and the more reports they will get about accidents or construction. Waze was just launched back in August, so it's relatively new. So while I don't think its that useful right now, as more and more people find out about it, it will become exponentially better. That's why I'm going to keep using it and hope that by the time I have to make the drive out to San Fran, or commute to work in the city every day, Waze will be a great app to make my travels easier!

Transit on Google Maps

Now, in addition to getting driving directions on Google Maps, you can also find out how to use public transportation to get you from point A to point B in more than 430 cities across the globe. Google Maps allows you to get step-by-step transit directions on your web browser or mobile application. By specifying your start and destination locations, and the time you'd like to leave or arrive, Google Maps Transit application can tell you exactly how to get there, when buses or trains are leaving, and even how much it will cost.

I actually discovered this application a few weeks ago when I was visiting San Francisco. I was at Fisherman's Wharf and wanted to go to the Financial District, but it was raining so walking there didn't sound appealing. I pulled out my iPhone and found the route on Google Maps, then clicked on the bus icon. It showed me what bus I needed to take, where to pick it up, and how much it would cost. The friend that I was meeting up with in the Financial District was amazed that I figured out how to use public transportation after 2 days, but I really just had Google Maps to thank for that! This video explains with more detail how to use the Google Maps Transit application:

If you're curious if Google Maps Transit will work in your city, check out the list of cities on this page. I think Google Maps Transit is an awesome application that is extremely useful and easy to understand, even for people who are unfamiliar with a city.

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