Use case: I want to draw a bike route on a map, for own joy or for sharing with my cycling friends. Google maps are cool, and free. As they are, they are not perfect for this task… but you can make them perfect with a tweak.
Google maps allow for saving routes (of course Google account is needed). The route must be created by clicking on the map and creating the route from straight segments. The result is like this:
I rate this free service as very cool. There is one inconvenience though: route does not actually follow the roads. It will be, correspondingly, somewhat shorter, and just not look so nice.
Google offers yet another option, “Get directions”. Click on this link, enter some directions and the server will offer a route between, which of course follows the roads. You can adjust the route by adding other checkpoints on it. This is something I’d call “way cool”, even if it would be a standalone program – and it’s a web application. The result:
There is one surprise: you do not have option to save the created route with these “directions”. I think such missing feature will be added by Google pretty soon. But even bigger surprise is that there exists an easy way to bypass this shortcoming!
When created the route in the “Search results” tab (after pressing “get directions”), click “link to this page”. Copy the link and add “&output=kml” (no quotes) to the long link line. The result is a link to the .kml file, containing your route. You can, for example, copy it to the browser navigation field and save the file to your local computer.
Next, forget about this “Search results” tab and start creating a new map in “My maps” tab. Do not add any points, instead click “Import”, and import the .kml file you’ve just created. You get the map with your route, which now can be saved to “My maps” and shared with friends who do not necessarily have a Google account.