This service, located at ditu.google.cn, has replaced Google Local, which was at bendi.google.cn. First off, there’s a couple of big differences between this and Google Maps for the US. You can’t use satellite or hybrid mode in the Chinese version. If you want a satellite you have to go back to using Google Earth or other such sites, and of course it’s hard to find your way there because all you see are blotches of rooftops. Ditu.google.cn just has the regular graphics.
Comparing this map with another map service, such as Ding Ding. Ding Ding, for us, is still a bit better. For one, there’s a drop down menu for cities, so you can pick ‘Shanghai’ and just type in the address, whereas for Google you have to write the city name and then the street name. For certain addresses, Google can figure out it’s Shanghai if that address doesn’t appear anywhere else. But if you type in something generic like “Zhong Shan Lu 1000” then it’ll say “did you mean … ” and list a whole bunch of cities and places other than Shanghai.
Like Bendi.google.com you could search stuff like “hot pot near Xujiahui,” and definitely some things show up though how comprehensive it is is hard to say.
However, there were some weird kinks in ditu.google.cn, for example, when we tried to type in a friend’s address, and get driving directions from our place to theirs. When we typed in their address, Google asked us “did you mean” and one of the choices was the exact address. However, as soon as we clicked on it, the driving directions were to some other place, on the same road, but completely wrong number.
We’ve tried some other combinations, and it’s something of a crap shoot. Google’s driving directions, when they work, are more detailed than Ding Ding’s—they tell you distances, e.g. go on Huai Hai Lu for 350 meters, etc. However, Ding Ding doesn’t have weird bugs like Google, if you type in the address correctly, it knows what place you are talking about. Furthermore, Ding Ding allows you to choose between driving and public transportation directions, which is quite practical for people who don’t own cars.
Google has an advantage in that fuzzy searches work better. For example, say you want to get from the Shanghai Library to the Shanghai Art Museum, and you don’t know their addresses. You can just type in their names in Chinese and it’ll come out, whereas for Ding Ding it’ll say that you typed invalid addresses.
Strangely, we could not find anything on Google’s China blog about this new service. Maybe it came out way before February?
Also, Google.cn has an added feature that you might find helpful—you can search in pinyin, and a drop-down menu of related Chinese character searches will appear, with the number of searches next to it. For example, if you are interested in actress Gong Li, you can type ‘gongli’ into google.cn and then see the various Chinese searches appear next to it.