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In most applications of google maps the scroll wheel will zoom the map instead of scrolling it. Personally I find this confusing, and after years of using google maps, both on the google maps web site and embedded google maps, I still often make the mistake of trying to scroll the map with scroll wheel and end up zooming it instead.

The google maps API allows me to disable scrollwheel zoom when I embed a map in my page. The question is should I disable it?

On the one hand scroll wheel zoom is unconventional in the context of the web as a whole - in the vast majority of cases the scroll wheel scrolls things.

On the other hand scroll wheel zoom is established convention for maps.

It definitely would be a better experience for me if scroll wheel zooming was disabled, but what about the web browsing population in general?

I did some searching on whether I should disable scroll zoom and couldn't find any guidelines. So, to scroll zoom or not to scroll zoom?

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I find this annoying as well - particularly as on a laptop with the 'scroll' areas on the trackpad turned on its easy to trigger accidently. –  PhillipW Sep 15 '13 at 15:27

4 Answers 4

The fact is, it doesn't matter what you think. You shouldn't disable scroll wheel zoom just because it's better for you because you are not your typical user.

For those using Google Maps embedded into your page, users are going to have have some pre-conceived expectations of how it should behave - i.e. they expect it to behave like Google Maps in its normal state.

And that means just leaving it alone.

Now where things might be different is where you have a customised utility, the foundation of which just happens to be using the Google Maps API. Your service may not be immediately recognizable as Google Maps, and you may have modified the interaction to suit your customised service. In such a case, it may be valid to alter behaviour.

But the upshot is, if it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, people will expect it to quack like a duck.

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– I like your duck analogy. But when you wish to have a duck for a dinner, don't you prefer it is not behave like a duck (running and flying away), but like cat (going stright into your hands)? –  Alexey Kolchenko Sep 8 '13 at 18:30
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@AlexeyKolchenko Well, that depends on whether we're trying to have Google Maps for dinner. Which, translated back from analogy-land, means: Is Google Maps being used in a significantly different context? If it's used to display location information, the context is very probably the same as any other context user has encountered it in. And in that case, it should quack like a duck, not roast like one. –  Ilari Kajaste Sep 13 '13 at 7:38

Established convention for scroll wheel map zooming is a strong argument.

But... I have bad personal experience with scroll wheel map zooming, too. enter image description here
The problem is map zooming occurs instead of needed content scrolling. The app displays bus route on the map and trip details on the right panel. The map doesn't provide rich interaction, I'd say it is rather secondary information, while trip details are what I really need.

This is just recent case, I have a lot of confusions with same behavior.

I think a solution could consider user task. When a map interaction is primary within current screen you should support all map conventions to provide high performance.

When a map is a secondary control (without rich interaction) and main user activity involves other controls, including scroll bar for content scrolling, you could break convention and disable scroll wheel map zooming. But this convention violation would have sense for the sake of users' task performance.

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I agree - scroll wheel map zooming in the middle of content messes up the scroll wheel behaviour for content scrolling. Sadly, user expectations - even when that expectation is a slightly bad behaviour - trump that. Of course, you might want to deliberately break the trend, but then that's in the realm of advocacy for better UX instead of direct good UX. –  Ilari Kajaste Sep 13 '13 at 7:42

If the map on your website takes almost entire width of the page you have used then it would definitely affects the end user experience. We may have to disable scroll to behave as zoom. Otherwise if the map used in the page leaves almost 50% of width for easy scrolling, as used by many websites which I have visited and then a link to take user to Google maps to have the complete Google maps experience with you content or data.

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I think it depends on the purpose of the map on your page:

  • If the map is the primary content (e.g. search results, directions) then the user is likely to want to see details in the map and allowing zooming via the scroll wheel is preferable to forcing them to click the +/- buttons or zoom by double-clicking.

  • If the map content is equal or secondary to other content, then zooming the map via the scroll wheel gets in the way.

On my site, I have separated these two functions by providing each map with an "expand" or "view full screen" button (a la YouTube and similar video players). The scroll wheel zoom is disabled it for the regular embedded map views, but enabled again in the full screen mode. (This page is an example.)

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