Exploring Local
Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Online Trip Planning – How Good Is That?

September 3rd, 2009 by MDob

This is long, but it is mostly pictures – and might be fun. (Update: BTW if you hover your mouse over the pictures they will now show comments if you are using Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google Chrome.)

It’s the Labor Day weekend, so I decided that I would show you some pictures and cut down on the words. After all, I’m not the kind of guy who wants to cause anyone a “brain cramp” or be the cause of a call from their boss just before they leave on a planned action-packed holiday weekend.

Since it is a holiday, my thoughts turned to trip planning. After all, it might give me a chance to try out that new I-7, over-clocked processor with more gigabytes of ram that I can count, those Radeon high-end graphic processors and those dual 24 inch screens. Not! I could have done the trip planning I encountered online with a mouse powered z-80a processor from back in the Eighties. Seems the problems with online route planning are with the procedures, data and presentation, not with the ability to compute.

If you remember, I recently wrote a long series about authority in mapping. Well, those blogs will continue to haunt us for a long time, because the topic keeps popping up. You might also remember that I wrote a few comments in the series about geographic gazetteers – they will also be a topic that will haunt the navigation community for some time to come. However, let’s just get on with the show!

So, I wanted to plan a trip to the Grand Canyon National Park. I suspect you know that it is located in Arizona. As far as I know, there is only one Grand Canyon National Park in the whole world, but there is certainly only one in the United States. Curiously, the problem of which “Grand Canyon National Park” I wanted to travel to turned out to be quite interesting. By the way, I know the images are small and close to illegible – but you will still get the idea,

I started with TomTom as I wanted to try their new online trip planner. When I entered this page, I viewed a image of Homer Simpson, which, in a bizarre way, turned out to be a warning to stop before I started.

TomTom Home Page

By the time I finished using the TomTom Trip Planner I realized that the TomTom logo was actually a user trying to strangle TomTom. (TomTom’s trip planner is labeled as a beta – maybe).

TomTom Logo

I started by entering my address and “Grand Canyon National Park” as the destination.

Just a simple trip to the Grand Canyon, I can't wait.

But which oneof these did I want?

I didn't know there were so many

When I decided to search “locations”, I was given new locations which are not the same as those above returned by the router.

Or,  even more than before

Maybe if I indicated I wanted to be routed to the South Rim?

I know, I'll try to be helpful

Uh, Nope.

Maybe if I indicated I wanted to go the Visitor Center?

Bad idea, I guess.

Guess not.

And then this, which I am not sure how it happened.

Must be user error.

Oh, never mind! Let’s try Google. Surely they know where the Grand Canyon is, since this clearly fits with their goal of discovering all of the information in universe, which includes those galaxies far, far, away.

Information overload - but which is authoritative?  -  I guess the one I want to be authoritative is the one that is authoritative.

Just how many Grand Canyon locations are there? Well at least the map symbols are close together and appear to be somewhere in the park.

Wow - user generated confusion

And look, I can query this user generated content for more user generated information. You know, Surowiecki had a lot of good ideas in “The Wisdom of Crowds”, although his theory was that on the average the crowd members would be right – but selecting destinations for trip planning should be based on authoritative information and not about averaging out solutions suggested by crowds. Bingo!

Speaking of which, let’s try Bing Maps.

Badda Bing - as it turns out very badda Bing

Well, no disambiguation problems here. There is just one Grand Canyon National Park. Unfortunately, it seems to be west of where I remembered the access road to the park.

This location is to the west of the tourist area of the Grand Canyon

Yes, the symbol is in the Grand Canyon National Park but nowhere near access to the Grand Canyon National Park facilities.

And if that is not enough, you cannot route to this location using Bing. Of course, that may be because it is not on a road. But I guess there must be a debate over whether destinations shown by a routing engine should be routable.

So, Bing gives me the location, but cannot route to it?  How helpful!

How about trying Navteq’s new mapping/routing engine? (Be nice, it too is still in beta.)

Yes, it is still in Beta

Hmmm. Back to disambiguation again. There were four choices – Grand Canyon North, East, South and West. I tried “south”.

Promising but fuzzy.

Well, maybe it was the beta but there was a lack of detail and I was not sure that this map showed the right location. So, I tried again and got this map.

A closer look at the map detail.   Well, there should be detail.

I think this is the right location, at least it looks like it is the South Entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, but I found the lack of detail on the map (even when I zoomed it closer) quite perplexing. I looked at the aerial imagery and there were lots of road in the park, but these were not on the map.

So, I next turned to Yahoo

Wow, Yahoo did pretty well.

No question about disambiguation here. It took me right to the South Entrance of the Grand Canyon National Park. Way to go Yahoo! Obviously somebody there spent some time thinking about using locations that were authoritative (I tried several other national parks and Yahoo always took me to the entrance or somewhere close to the official park headquarters). Of course, there is a significant lack of detail about the park itself.

No online option gave me the detail found in my 1993 Rand McNally Road Atlas (the first year we created it from a digital cartographic database).


Say, look at the additional detail available at the bottom of the page in an inset map of Grand Canyon National Park.

Oh man.  An inset map showing details previously unknown to the digerati

Hey look, somebody put the park headquarters on the map – and the Phantom Ranch, and the campgrounds. Wow, how did they get these data that seem to be missing in current navigation databases? The answer is quite simple: they collected it from authoritative sources.

The sad fact is that current online routing technologies (as well as PNDs) and the navigation databases that support them are not designed to be used for trip planning purposes. Routing between known addresses, yes – but not trip planning.

You know, you would think that with all of the available digital map databases for navigation and with all of the processing powering in those data centers that our online trip planning services could at least match the ease of solving a trip planning problem using a 16 year old paper map. What seems to be lacking is an understanding of the trip planning task.

I saw District 9 today. While watching the movie I noticed a group of cartographers cowering in one of the shacks of the prawn camp. Cartographers, what are they???????

Have a great holiday weekend.

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Posted in Authority and mapping, Bing maps, crowdsourced map data, Data Sources, geographical gazetteers, Google, Microsoft, Navteq, routing and navigation, TomTom, Yahoo

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