Friday, December 16, 2011

Google's Next Cartographer – You?

Photo courtesy of Luigi Diamanti -

Ever been in a situation where your GPS doesn't quite get your destination right? I've found myself getting lost on a number of occasions while driving because I'm trying to get to a friend's house in a new subdivision, and my GPS either doesn't know what to do, or sends me on unnecessarily long detours to get to a simple location. Once, I drove all the way to Pacific (about 45 minutes outside of St. Louis) to make it to a friend's party. Little did I know, the house was in the middle of the woods, it was past 9 PM, and the roads and streets weren't particularly visible. My GPS wasn't sure where to go. Had I not been given turn by turn directions by my friend, I would have been left in the dark, literally!

Now, there's something to be said about doing things the old way and writing down directions with a pen and paper, but in this day and age, we need to be honest with ourselves. Most of us would rather pull up a digital map and directions on our phone (or navigation system such as Entune) than be bothered to take the time to write them down before making a trip. Fortunately, Google wants to alleviate these sorts of situations by hiring someone they know and trust. Someone who's familiar with their community, their local streets, and knows the best way to get around. That someone? You!

Just recently, Google updated their Map Maker software, allowing anyone to propose live edits to the Google Maps system. By crowdsourcing this feature, users can add places, paths, and streets that the Google Maps team may not have previously known about. One of the coolest features is the ability to draw lines to dictate boundaries of parks and buildings that may not be scaled correctly. Over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go? Now there can be a map for that.

There are some who will argue that Google is essentially getting us, the users, to work for free by creating their content, but I disagree. There are still employees behind the scenes, reviewing these peer edits, and ensuring whatever changes are proposed are honest and helpful. Think of it this way- you could be reducing the number of slow, lost drivers, and in turn, help to reduce road rage!
Have you ever gotten lost while trying to navigate your GPS in your car? Would you like to see a map making feature such as this standard in every GPS system? 

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