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

Google Maps – The Brand

October 8th, 2009 by MDob

Ah, where to start?

While looking at Google maps of the U.S. over the last couple of days, it has become clear that Google has changed gears. If you zoom the base map of the United States on Google Maps, so that it does not include any section of Canada, you may notice that the copyright notice becomes ©2009 Google – Map data ©2009 Google. What has changed is that the copyright notice no longer includes “Map data ©2009 TeleAtlas. TeleAtlas data is still being used by Google in Canada, Europe and some other locations, but I suspect that it will not be long until Google goes it alone in the world of mapping. I guess the jubilation at TeleAtlas regarding the 5 year agreement they announced with Google in 2008 has subsided.

Google has replaced TA as a data supplier for data in the United States

But continues to use TA data in Europe and Canada

But Wait, There’s More

In the Google Lat Long Blog of October 7 Google announced that its maps now look different. However, they did not indicate that they had dropped TeleAtlas from their U.S. coverage. Instead, they indicated that their maps looked different because “…we’ve worked directly with a wide range of authoritative information sources to create a new base map dataset. In our experience, these organizations that create the data do the best job of keeping it accurate and up-to-date. For example, in the US there are a number of publicly accessible geospatial datasets created by the government for the Census, land surveying, and transportation.” To get some interesting insights on the agencies cooperating with Google and information on Google’s strategy for continued development of its map database, take a look at Article 4 of their “terms of service” to find out their “new” partners.

In the same blog, Google announced their new “Report A Problem” link embedded in all Google map views of the U.S. that exclude Canada (the data for Canada is still supplied by TeleAtlas). The Report a Problem link is a conduit for User Generated Content and Google hopes to be able to confirm these map corrections/suggestions within a month by confirming it with other users, data sources, or imagery and will keep you posted on their progress if you request it. The “Report A Problem” service is currently not available in countries where TeleAtlas continues to be the main source of map data used by Google. Do you suppose this omission is because the previously mentioned contract with TeleAtlas requires Google to share its User Generated Map Updates with TeleAtlas (or at least that is what was said in the TA press release announcing the contract)?

An example of the Report A Map Problem link.

If the previous news item was not enough GoogleJuice (and thanks to Mike Blumenthal who pointed out the next item in is his informative blog) Google has also started implementing its own, customized Geographic Naming Convention. Information about the topic can be found in Mike’s blog and here
at the official Google Blog. While I appreciate their advertising my travel site ThereArePlaces ® (www.thereareplaces.com) in their blog title, my real interest here is Gogole’s interest in making spatial URLs easier to remember by tying them to geography. (Editorial note – Now I know you think “There Are Places” is the title of a Beatle’s song, but the Beatle’s song that includes the lyrics “There Are Places” is actually titled “In My Life”.)

Here is an example of Google’s approach to a spatial URL: http://www.google.com/places/us/california/san-francisco-city. Seeing this concatenation of spatial terms used as a URL was like déjà vu to me. As many of you know, I was once the CTO at go2 Systems. Part of go2’s efforts were focused on the use of PLAs (Proprietary Location Addreses) and ULAs (Universal Location Addresses). Both were unique forms of location places with a user-friendly naming convention. PLAs, for example were of the following form: us.ca.irv.bajafish. The address served as a pointer to detailed reference information about the Baja Fish Mexican restaurant in Irvine, California. More information on one implementation of geographic names for referencing can be found in these patents (A)(B). (Editors note: I am not implying that Google is using intellectual property that belongs to someone else. I have cited these patents as interesting examples of other approaches to geographic naming conventions. In that light, I understand that these particular patents were acquired by another party during go2’s bankruptcy. I have been told that Lee Hancock (the founder of go2) has expanded his original concept with a series of add-on patents, broadening his original claims.)

It is my own opinion that geographic identifiers in some form will become an important component of local search because they can act to simplify locating places when you are searching for them. Of course, another reason is that people love jargon and postal addresses and latitude/longitude don’t work as locators for most folks.

Wow, just following Google’s mapping activities could become a profession of its own, but I have other things to do so let’s summarize.

Is there a pattern here? Google dumps Navteq. Google dumps TA. Google cooperates with governments and other sources closer to the spatial data than navigation database companies. Google expands the use of UGC to help replace the content of map vendors. Hmmm.

I suspect that Google has undertaken its role in mapping because it was dissatisfied with the quality and expense of data from both TeleAtlas and Navteq. However, that means that Google Maps has now become a brand and that has some interesting implications. In addition, Google has apparently, accepted the burden of updating their maps for both presentation and routing (yep, the routes in the United States are generated using Google’s data).

It appears Google is determined to become the big onion of mapping (peel back a layer and find something new). While this all fits with Google’s self-proclaimed mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, it also raises a lot of questions about how Google will maintain these data and how it will compete in the world of mapping applications. In addition, what does this portend for Microsoft?

Today’s blog is too long already, so I will think about the implications of the Google “Map Brand” and include them in a future blog.

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Posted in Google, Mike Dobson, Navteq, TeleAtlas, User Generated Content

2 Responses

  1. Mark

    It should be very interesting to see what UGC brings to the table. In checking out my neighborhood, I already see that changes made to the TA data in the last 3-4 yrs is not there. I suspect that much info can be gathered from CGC, but not all. I’ll keep an eye on my neighborhood and see how long it takes for Google to get it right.

    - Thanks for your comment, Mark. I think your observation is correct and that in many locations the new Google base lags TA. However, since TA is now relying on User Generated Content, Navteq appears to be the only mapping company with a large field team focused on data collection. I suspect that the interesting future comparison will be between Google and Navteq, since TA will be relying on UGC and Probe Data to lead them to probable updates of the base maps. – Mike

  2. Karl Larsen

    I do think it’s curious that Google is being mysterious of some of it’s data sources. I hope it means that there might be room for them to work with OpenStreetMap. How many places do we need to update for our street/neighborhood up to date on all the online maps and PND’s – OpenStreetMap, Google TeleAtlas and Navteq.

    Good point, Karl.

    The consortium approach has been argued by the profession for years and it seems that each group thinks it adds its own “secret sauce” that improves the database. However, since everyone is mapping the same reality (hopefully) the differences should be minimal. Unfortunately, what should be the case is rarely true in mapping and you will find that certain companies seem to excell in certain geographies, while others lag. It is an intersting topic, thanks for your observation.