Our Maps Are Googley Now

Redfin just released a new version of the site. In addition to improving our short sale detection in Orange County and parts of LA and making our neighborhood pages a little more discoverable from the map page,neighborhood-panel.png we switched to using Google Maps exclusively instead of a mix of Microsoft Virtual Earth and Google Maps.

We decided to do this now because our two-year contract with Microsoft was up for renewal. We did an evaluation and figured out a way to draw a large number of pushpins on GMaps very quickly. When we went with VE in 2006, GMaps was faster out of the box but slower once we started drawing on it, especially on IE6.

We like a lot of things about going with Google Maps:

We don’t like that we can no longer embed Bird’s Eye views on our site and that 3 developers spent four weeks to do the switch instead of adding more features. Plus, Redfin has had a very good relationship with the Microsoft Virtual Earth team, which we’ll miss. We’d like to give special thanks to Sujatha, the Microsoft PM who answered our e-mails, calls, and random entreaties with the utmost of professionalism and speed. We really only have good things to say about VE. Anyone looking to build a map-based Web 2.0 site has two solid choices.

In the end, it was speed, speed, speed that convinced us to switch. In our worst case scenario of 500 pushpins on the map in IE6, GMaps is 385% faster.

Real Estate Map

“Every millisecond counts” is a “Googley” UX design principle that we remember from Marissa Mayer’s evangelism of speed and that we strongly believe in (see here, here, and here). Users who come to Redfin now should see maps load and render just a little bit quicker, which makes us feel a little Googley inside.

That’s it! Happy holidays from Redfin Engineering. You won’t hear from us until February, as we’re already working on a major release that will take a little more time. But it’ll be worth it. For those of you using the site, can you notice a performance difference? Leave a comment and let us know!

Bonus for developers: read about our experience switching from Virtual Earth to Google Maps.

Discussion

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  • Stacy

    Great job. Makes my life a lot easier when the maps draw this fast.

  • Jeremy Miles

    Looks great.

    One small thing – is it just me, or are the light green and dark green icons (for viewed and unviewed) a bit more similar than they were before.

    (It might be my monitor too, I suppose).

  • Jim

    Hi Jeremy,
    We did tweak the colors for the light and dark green icons with this release. Google Maps uses brighter colors than Virtual Earth and the green they use for parks is the same green that we used to use for viewed listings which made them tough to see.

  • Hockey Puck

    Good riddance Microsoft Maps!!! Hated them. So slow to load.

    • http://www.newhomesteps.com New home building guide

      Exactly right. Microsoft needs to go.

  • Chris

    It IS faster. But I miss the north/south/east/west view feature.

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  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @Stacy, thanks for the encouragement. This is our v1 on GMaps, and hopefully we’ll find more ways to speed up the map in the future.

    @Hockey Puck, there are definitely some things about VE I’ll miss but we’re certainly enjoying the speed improvements.

    @Chris, I miss embedded Bird’s Eye views too. Let’s see if Google steps up in 2009.

  • pete

    How are you drawing a “large number of pushpins very quickly” ???

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  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @Pete, the devblog is a better place to go into technical questions. But, basically, our Search engineers wrote some custom javascript code to plug into the GMaps API and optimize the pushpin rendering.

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  • Rich

    Often times the lot lines partially draw or do not draw at all. This wasn’t a problem before the change. (I’m using Firefox 3.0.4). Hope a fix is in the works…

  • Chris

    I like the new map, but as a previous poster pointed out, it is substantially more difficult to see the property icons. I would like to humbly suggest dancing hamsters instead.

  • George

    Where are the property lines? where is the aerial views outside of the metro areas? for all of the areas I’m looking for property in, google maps is a big downgrade.

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  • Mark Ashton

    I will really miss the birds-eye view. I consistently use Live Maps/MSN because of that feature, despite the somtimes slower performance. There’s no easier way to get oriented than the angeled view. I’ve also found Live Maps to be, on average, slightly more accurate but that could have to do with where I travel.

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  • Robin

    I’m really surprised by some of these comments. While the search itself might load a little faster, the functionality of the listing pages has been significantly decreased. Consumers can no longer look at the actual properly lot from various directions. Gmaps (from my searching) has been having issues matching up their depiction of where roads are and where they actually are, which makes looking at plats a little challenging. I agree with Mark, I use live maps and now instead of Redfin being a one stop shop, I find myself having to look in seperate locations yet again. My opinion is the decision to change to Gmaps has or will have a negative impact overall on Redfin.

  • Michael

    I agree with Robin. The Gmaps are less pleasing to the eye, harder to navigate, the aerial views are of lower quality and and the lack of a quick bird’s eye view really detracts from the user experience. Overall a big negative for me and I use Redfin daily.

  • Ljiljana

    Agree with Michael and Robin. Gmaps are much harder to navigate and they appear very clunky. Go back to what you had before!

  • Creed

    It’s about time! Now I don’t have to keep going back and fourth between redfin.com and maps.google.com.

  • http://www.minus34.com Hugh Saalmans

    Hmm, I hope you tested Virtual Earth loading multiple pushpins in a single VEShape, instead of loading them one at a time…

    Be kind of embarassing if you hadn’t tested apples with apples there…

    I’ve tested significant amounts of vector data in GMaps and VE and VE cleans up!

  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @George & Rich, the parcel images can sometimes fail to download depending on network conditions. We’ll look into whether or not we broke something when we switched to Google Maps. Thanks for the feedback.

    @Robin, Michael, Ljiljana, and others, I agree that not having embedded Bird’s Eye views is certainly a loss in functionality. We hope the link to the right spot on maps.live.com helps.

    As far as aerial imagery, I think there is no clear winner between Google and VE right now. VE is better in some cities, GMaps in others. Google’s investment in the GeoEye-1 satellite (which took its first picture just 2 months ago) may change that in 2009 when the the images are imported into GMaps. VE still has a strong library of plane-based high-res imagery in urban areas. I expect both Google and Microsoft to continue improving their imagery, which is great for consumers.

  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    Also, if you don’t see parcel outlines on the map, try hitting refresh and see if that fixes it.

  • Richard

    The bird’s eye view was a function I used when reviewing every listing. Having to launch a 2nd window to see bird’s eye is very cumbersome, esp when scanning multiple listings.
    There is no noticeable performance improvement in the map rendering for me.

  • Martin

    I have not noticed an increase in speed.
    I do miss the direct bird’s eye view; having to open a second window is clumsy and there’s a proliferation of windows, particularly if I’m looking at several listings.
    In addition, I’ve noticed that the opening of the Detail window now fails sometimes with IE (though not with Firefox). Perhaps this was just a problem during the transition and will go away.

  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @Hugh, the devblog is a better place for technical discussion. And yes, we are well aware of the VEShape API. CDN usage and javascript sizes are also part of the performance equation.

    @Richard, try a search on “Hollywood Hills” which has 450-500 listings right now and you’ll see it pop much quicker than before. The speed improvements are most noticeable on IE browsers when there are 200+ houses on the map and when users first come to the site (and have to download the underlying maps javascript code).

  • Brad

    Hi – Sorry, I’m not feeling the love for the new maps. I keep getting a ‘your map is taking too long…’ statement. Prior to the change I never had any issue.

  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @Brad (and anyone else seeing this issue), can you send us an email at techsupport (at) redfin (dot) com? We’ll help work this out. Thanks for your patience.

  • Neil

    who does your geocoding? it still sucks. look at the listings at 1121 40th st in emeryville. it’s about 2 miles off to the north west.

  • Dave

    I (as well) will dearly miss the Birds Eye view integrated directly on property page… I found that this was by far the most useful way of identifying the layout of a property and its external features. In fact, it was usually the primary decision-making feature for me as to whether I was interested in taking the next step and visiting the property in-person.

    In my mind – the usefulness of this feature probably outweighs the small advantage in speed – especially if that speed increase is most noticeable when I’m doing searches that aren’t likely to be that helpful anyway (i.e. the “worst-case” scenario of 500 pins, which is really too many to properly digest on a map). A delay of a few extra seconds can be tolerated now and then, whereas losing what I would consider to be a major feature hurts on _every_ property view. While I appreciate that you’ve kept a link to maps.live.com, launching it in a new window just doesn’t work as well, as it clutters up the browser even more and decouples the imagery from the data…

    From a speed perspective, why not use the Google maps on the search page, but keep the Virtual Earth maps on the property page? While this would have meant keeping a contract with Microsoft as well as with Google, it would have also presumably allowed you to keep the Bird-eye view feature “as-is” – which, given the comments on this thread, seems to have been pretty popular.

    Redfin has been great at consistently adding features, so I am surprised that you have taken a step backward in functionality here – and unlike some of the other features that have come and gone, this ones seems to have nothing to do with MLS or REALTOR issues…

    As a long-time admirer and evangelist of Redfin, I hate to say that this is the first time I feel you have taken a misstep in creating what has otherwise been a near-perfect real estate search experience. While I’ll likely work through my grief at the loss of this feature, I fear that I’ll always have some remaining bitterness at this decision – which will likely make me less of a Redfin fan in the long run.

  • rk

    The poor performance I noticed the most in the past had nothing to do with VE, but rather your implimentation of it (mainly lack of delay on push-pin reload upon navigation).

  • dbee

    This dam_n thing is stuck in 3D setup mode. how do you get out of it

  • Dirtfox

    I like the change. VE used to have issues sliding the map view when zooming in and out when I had it in a little reduced-size browser window instead of full screen. It would jump to not-useful areas of the city when I double-clicked on a spot to zoom in there! (and this was even in IE) Yay speed and accuracy!

  • http://www.earthware.co.uk/blog Brian Norman

    @dave

    I expect the decision on birdseye also had a lot to do with the extra costs of using birdseye with ve as it costs considerably more than just using the aerial imagery.

  • Himanshu

    Another thing I noticed with GMaps is that it is missing the Map scale. I’m looking at properties by the coast and with the previous version, I could get a pretty good idea of how far the property was from the ocean.

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  • BradB

    You’ve ruined it. Now there is no topography visualization. How do I know if a home is on a hill now? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.

  • BradB

    Uhh… nevermind. I guess you can use the hybrid view – just a little slower in that respect.

  • Phred

    The integrated Bird’s Eye view was a very important feature for us. Now that it has been removed and that a disorienting pop-up/new tab is necessary, the competitive advantage of Redfin has been diminished. The new map is not as nice (colors are too bright with topographical information missing (i.e., mountains etc)). Speed was never a problem for us with old Redfin; we use MSIE, Firefox and Safari equally throughout the day. Sadly, we’ve begun to search around for a similar service with integrated Bird’s Eye views (an all-in-one site) :

  • Martin

    With MSIE and Windows Vista Home Premium, the Bird’s Eye view fails completely. A new window opens, the border is painted, an icon appears, but the interior is empty.

  • http://www.redfin.com Michael Young

    @Himanshu, I believe the scale is something that VE automatically puts in that Google doesn’t. Good catch. We’ll look into that.

    @Phred, please do look at other sites and let us know. While losing Bird’s Eye views is certainly not a good thing, I believe you’ll find our focus on giving you as much data as possible on the listing detail pages to be hard to beat.

    @Martin, your issue almost sounds like a problem bringing up maps.live.com. Send us an email at techsupport (at) redfin (dot) com and we can help you.

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  • eric

    Wow, I agree. While the site might be marginally faster (it doesn’t feel 300X as you claim), I don’t like the way the new maps are being drawn and the birds-eye view was the most important thing for me.

    Sure, you could implement G’s street view which is pretty cool, but it’s still not the view and angles that Bird’s Eye gives you that is important for real estate.

    Bummer, I used to really like Redfin :(

  • James

    IMHO, As someone who used Redfin extensively in my house hunt, Bird’s Eye alone was well worth the wait.

  • Asvin

    I actually found the townhome that i eventually bought on redfin. and bird’s eye views were a primary reason for looking at redfin in addition to the mls site my agent kept sending to me. Its unfortunate that this feature doesn’t exist anymore. And as for it being faster, well I don’t see it and significant increase

  • Jeff Ali

    Wow, what a disappointment. Virtual Earth version was way better. The speed difference is marginal. I’m willing to wait the extra few seconds for the bird’s eye view.

    As for RedFin interface itself, its great – so great that as a real estate agent I wish my local MLS would simply just license your technology, except I probably will be using this site a lot less since the switch to Google.

  • Ben Stevens

    Redfin users seem to pretty vocal about their opinions relative to the site. My read is that the incremental difference in speed does not outweigh the value of msft’s birds eye. It will be interesting to see if redfin actually takes the feedback seriously and moves back to virtual earth.

  • Matt

    I would agree with the vast majority of users here. This morning I started browsing Redfin and found the mapping experience to be immediately lacking. Before I realized that a switch had been made, I was trying to find a link to look at the VE maps instead of the google maps. I’m also struggling with the accuracy of the maps.

    In the past, when I pulled up the detail page of a property, the property outline was generally accurate and reflected more recent changes (such as a sub-divide). Now I’m finding that the outlines are less accurate and the map isn’t centering on the actual outline. This is an example where the quality and quantity of information that Redfin provides are clearly differentiators, but if it is displayed poorly I find the information not useful. It simply doesn’t add up for redfin when you indicate that speed is a more important attribute than overall mapping capabilities when so much of the information and experience is centered around the mapping technology used.

    My two cents is that VE provided a better user experience, more accurate maps, and better features. If cost was the driving factor in this decision, call it for what it is (don’t make speed the scapegoat). We all know that expense reduction/control is an important part of running a business, I doubt many will fault Redfin for making strategic decisions to create a betterm, more viable company. After all, we do want the detailed information that redfin provides and don’t want to see that go away.

    However, there’s a balance here. If users find the experience with GE to be less rewarding, they will migrate to other sites that use VE and Redfin’s relevance and differentiation in the market will be diminished.

  • risa

    Love the speed!… but kinda hard to see the house icons. is there a way to just fade/make transparent the map portion so that the greens in the icons stand out more?
    Also really miss the birdseye view… it was helpful to “drive around” the street where the property was located.

  • http://www.redfin.com Sasha Aickin

    @Matt: actually, the property outlines are not from VE or Google; they’re from a third party and haven’t changed at all since the release. They’re exactly the same and have exactly the same degree of accuracy.

  • http://www.redfin.com Sasha Aickin

    @Ben Stevens: we do take our user feedback seriously, and we understand that folks dislike moving Bird’s Eye to a separate window. We wish we could have kept it in the same window. I think the complaints have three sources:

    1) Bird’s eye now opens in another window and is slow. Clearly a worse experience.

    2) People don’t think that they can turn to see views from other angles on the live.com site, although they can. Just click the rounded arrows below the + and – in the upper left.

    3) We released on Thursday with a bug in the bird’s eye link that made it sometimes not send the map to the right place in IE. This was a horrible experience, and when it happened, bird’s eye truly was useless. Our mistake for not finding it before release, and I’m sure it has certainly colored some folks’ response to the bird’s eye link. We fixed the bug Friday afternoon. My apologies.

    Also, while we do listen to our users’ direct feedback, we balance that by looking at the stats we get on site use to make sure that we aren’t only listening to a vocal minority. So far, the site stats have been quite positive on the Google switch, and we have to counterbalance with folks who are (quite understandably) upset at the loss of bird’s eye.

  • JayDee

    I can no longer move around in street view (that is, click on the arrows to move along the streets, and click on the directional arrows to turn around). I’m using FireFox 3 with NoScript; I’ve tried allowing scripts globally in NoScript, and that doesn’t fix it. I can use Google Maps street by itself just fine; it’s only the Google maps street that is part of Redfin that won’t work for me. Google maps street view in Redfin works in IE; seems like your coders have written something wrong for FireFox?

  • http://www.redfin.com Sasha Aickin

    @JayDee We’ve had one other user report this problem happening intermittently, but we haven’t ever been able to reproduce it. I’ll install NoScript and see if that causes a problem.

    For the record, we almost always develop for Firefox first, so we are much more susceptible to IE-only bugs.

    One question for you: can you get street view to work well on maps.google.com?

  • http://www.redfin.com Sasha Aickin

    @JayDee I can now repro the problem on Firefox 3 with NoScript, and when I uninstall NoScript the problem goes away. Looks like NoScript is doing something nasty to us, but I’m not exactly sure where to go next with it. I’m going to talk to some co-workers and see if we can come up with a strategy, although I’ll note that it’s intrinsically hard to deal with browser plugins that can arbitrarily change our code. Hopefully we’ll come up with a way to trick NoScript.

  • JayDee

    Hi Sasha,

    Thank you for your help with the FireFox 3/NoScript problem. I’ve done more checking by ticking and unticking the various options available in the NoScript menu, and found that removing the ClearClick protection on the Plugins tab solves the problem. However, given that street view works for me on maps.google.com without removing ClearClick protection, I am a bit concerned about removing this protection, given the description of Clearjacking given by NoScript here http://noscript.net/faq#qa7_1 . Can you comment?

  • http://devblog.redfin.com/author/sasha.aickin Sasha

    @JayDee Yeah, we figured that out midday on the 17th and contacted the creator of NoScript with a bug report. Strangely, he’s not able to reproduce it; he says that street view only acts “slowly” for him on our site. For me, it reproduces 100% of the time.

    It looks like what’s happening is that NoScript is improperly thinking that the overhead map, which we hide when you switch to StreetView, is a clickjacking attack. It’s not, and NoScript should be able to see that, but for some reason it isn’t.

    I was hoping we could resolve it with the NoScript developer, but he hasn’t written me back since the first time, so we might have to hack at it for a while before we get it working correctly. If you send your e-mail to techsupport at redfin dot com and mention that you’re the person who was having the NoScript problem, I’ll keep you up to date on developments.

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  • http://www.cybercity3d.com Kevin DeVito

    We just added about 1,000,000 3D Buildings to Google Earth! All viewed for Real Estate. Long Beach, Santa Monica, El Segundo, Pasadena, Hollywood, Paris, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Honolulu, about 20 more cities. Google added many too. The Real Estate viewing experience is vastly improved, All loads FAST.

    Microsoft is WAY behind the curve in my opinion.

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  • http://yellowfoxsoftware.googlepages.com/ hernan

    ok, so why can’t we get the really easy feature:
    “add this location to a my maps collection”..

    I need it to:

    1. I keep color coded system of what I see and what I didn’t, notes, etc’

    2. I send it to my GPS once it is on google maps.

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  • http://www.tripcart.com InossePesed

    Hello There
    Just back from Natick Mall .No room in the parking lot!.Have the incentives kicked in?.Same in your area?Better deals than last year.Gotta go shopping some more..Seems like Park City Mall is doing well also.

    Enjoy

  • http://www.tripcart.com InossePesed

    Attention Shoppers
    Spent the afternoon at Natick Mall .Business is booming..Have the incentives kicked in?.Is your local mall feeling the recovery?Better deals than last year.Gotta go shopping some more..I think Park City Mall is packed.

    Enjoy

  • http://www.tripcart.com InossePesed

    Attention Shoppers
    Spent the afternoon at Natick Mall .Sales galore and crowds galore..First sign of recovery?.Same in your area?I do feel that prices are down, though.Off to shop..Friends say that Park City Mall is crowded, as well.

    Spend money!

  • http://www.draft.org Mike from St. Louis

    Interesting to find this post. I just made the switch from Google to Bing Maps. Don’t get me wrong, I love Google maps; but the API was just too slow for me and census data which spills out thousands of polygon points in about two seconds.

    I think that redfin may have saved themselves to conversion time by considering data compression of the points.

    I’m stoked about how fast I made 3000 census tracts covering two states in about 4 seconds with Bing Maps. (of course, panning and zooming tanked) Even Redfin has a limit on zoom level and the number of properties they can display. :-)

    My point here is that compression of the data across the wire (most software developers use jQuery and JSON with raw lat/long number which is a performance killer. Compression ratios of 75% are easily obtained through two simple functions.

  • http://www.1stchoicemortgageservices.com Mortgage Services

    The bird’s eye view was a function I used when reviewing every listing. Having to launch a 2nd window to see bird’s eye is very cumbersome, esp when scanning multiple listings.
    Mortgage Services

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