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Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Got Some Whuffie For Your Favorite Mapping Service?

June 17th, 2010 by MDob

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about social networking and now know that the good karma you accumulate for making positive contributions to your network is called “whuffie” (don’t blame me, I only report the news). If you want to know more about whuffie, you can find the book at Amazon. According to Tara Hunt, the book’s author, “what it comes down to, in this Web 2.0 world, is that there really are only three ways to build a business and make money online: porn, luck and whuffie.” Tara continues by indicating that you can generate whuffie in a variety of ways, but one of the best is by creating amazing customer experiences that involve great products surrounded by satisfying user experiences.

From a practical perspective, this is what makes Apple products so great. The iPhone, for example, is a powerful computer, but those who use the device never are exposed to “computerese” and rarely exposed to errors. They just tap their device and it works. In fact, this ease of use is the reason behind the unexpected success of the iPad. It’s a bigger iPhone-like device that just works. It doesn’t appear to be a computer. It just turns on and you can do stuff without waiting for it to boot up, without having to sign-in, close the annoying notice from Word that normal.something has written a new version of itself or that you can’t access a website because “You may not be connected to the Internet.” Sorry Microsoft, I am connected to the Internet, it’s your operating system that is not connected to Web 2.0.

It dawned on my as I read Tara Hunt’s ‘whuffie” book that the notion of “amazing customer experiences” is exactly what is missing in the world of mapping and navigation. Going back to Tara’s quote above and applying it to map services, we don’t offer porn, our maps had better not be based on luck and providers of map services may not be capable of generating whuffie from their communities.

This morning, for example, I fired up my iPhone and took a look at the Google Mobile application. I selected “Maps” and the app asked to use my current location. I agreed, presuming that the use of GPS based location might avoid any uncertainty about where I was at the moment.

Well, I was sitting in my home after an early morning walk eating breakfast and avoiding real work for a few more minutes. I was amused when the first map location Google showed for me was about two miles east of my actual location. Abruptly, I appeared to move a mile south to the Shops at Mission Viejo and then, according to Google, I jumped to the middle of the I-5 Freeway where my location symbol sat for about thirty seconds before moving to a position that matched my actual location. While the movie “Jumper” was modeled on my ability to teleport to new locations, I was not using that particular super power while viewing my iPhone. No whuffie for Google Mobile.

And no whufflie for NAVTEQ, since the company still has not managed to fix the error in Providence, Rhode island on their website. Instead, they continue to refuse to use their own latest database release (must be a licensing issue, maybe they haven’t paid their bill) preferring to use a 2010 copyright on data that doesn’t come from their 2010 database release. Of course, since NOKIA appears to be in freefall after their financial warning, it may not be possible for NAVTEQ to fix the error in the foreseeable future. Maybe they will be sent to the whuffie penalty box.

While we are on the topic of copyrights, I was amused last month (that’s right, in May) when Rand McNally sent me an email indicating that I now could buy a copy of the Rand McNally 2011 Road Atlas. One the one hand, you think the company might be able to afford the send their ex-Chief Cartographer a free copy, but that’s just another piece of embarrassing self-promotion, so let’s move on (no whuffie for me).

On the other hand, how could you publish a road atlas in May of 2010 and label it 2011? Doesn’t that stretch the limits of credibility? When I worked at Rand, we began printing the Road Atlas for the next year in late July and the production run was so large that the atlas printed 24/7 for over a month on high-speed presses just to create the initial inventory necessary to meet the distribution requirements for the product release in September and October.

I doubt that many people are buying print atlases anymore, so the production run is likely significantly smaller than a decade ago. If that’s the case why move the production date back? I guess the answer is moolah ($) based a marketing strategy that hopes to take advantage of an economic climate where more people will be staying closer to home and reverting to driving vacations, rather than “flying” vacations. But still, don’t you think that the Wal-Mart shoppers are going to take a look at the cover and wonder how this atlas can include road changes for 2011, seven months ahead of the calendar? No whuffie from them either.

Every time I open the news, I find another pundit who has realized that Google Maps is an unreasonably, unreliable product causing them to switch to some alternative map provider after describing the numerous routes that were scrambled on Google. The last interesting one I saw was in Albuquerque where Google thinks the local air force base is the local commercial airport. Even after having been contacted by official authorities and changing to the correct location, it reverted to using the air force base as the airport a few weeks later. Double no whuffie for Google!

The problem with no whuffie for mapping is that the situation is bound to get worse. I realize that Google is innovating towards a solution to its mapping problems and feel it is likely that they will improve in the future. Similarly, NAVTEQ knows how to compile data and once it finds a way into using crowd-sourced data, it should be able to advantage itself and produce product with enhanced accuracy. TeleAtlas has benefitted from its acquisition by TomTom through the advantage of the huge number of people contributing map changes and probe data through MapShare. OSM, also, continues to improve it quality and coverage. However, the reality is that no map database provider is capable today of creating a street-level database that exceeds or even matches the expectations of their customers, at least the rational ones.

Who is the “Apple” of the mapping world? No whuffie for anybody! The problem of concern to me is that the kinds of mapping we are seeing on the Web today are based on simple concepts and, even then, nobody seems to be able to figure out how to do them right.

The difficulty I have is that Google, Microsoft, Apple (yes Apple) and others are about to take the next step in mapping. Yep, instead of navigation, place-finders, and map pin types of applications, these titans of industry are going to move into real mapping, GIS and analytical uses of spatial data. I have just two questions. Where will the knowledge base for all of this development come from? Who is authoritative? No whuffie for us – mapping as a science is doomed, although mapping as entertainment appears to have a strong future.

Well, enough of this grousing. Next time let’s look at the notion that “information is tribal, while map database builders aspire to be global”. Is there a way to take advantage of this tension?

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Posted in Authority and mapping, Google maps, Mapping, Mike Dobson, Navteq, Nokia, OSM, shameless self-promotion, User Generated Content

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