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

User Generated Content and Map – Ch Ch Changes

November 27th, 2007 by MDob

I apologize about the time that it is taking me get back to User Generated Content and map updating. Each time I think about the topic I find something new and interesting that puts me on another detour. If I was still a professor this would be my new research topic. (Yes, once I was a young, bearded, long-haired, firebrand who taught America’s youth the ins-and-outs of GIS, cartography and spatial data handling.) UGC is really an interesting concept and one that should be of interest to all players in the navigation market.

After going through numerous strategies on the benefits of UGC in navigation, I am now forced to abandon my position that PNDs are a transitory product destined to be replaced by smart phones. Instead, while I still believe that Location Based Services and spatial social networking will be dominated by smart phones, it is likely that PNDs will survive for a long time and become the central device for pure navigation, whether in or out of the car. My epiphany on this topic came as I mused about the user benefits of a UGC system for map updating, tested a lot of navigation units and concluded that even the worst PNDs are better navigation devices than the navigation applications on most smart phones. Not that the phone market is without resources in this battle, but that is not the point here.

So, what’s so important about UGC from the perspective of Market Strategy?

Timelier map updates seems an obvious benefit. Less obvious is the notion that the map updating properly implemented can become a method by which the user can customizes their PND based on their view of the world (e.g. custom names for locations, poi’s, friends houses rather than address, custom POI classes so that everyone can show locations that are important to them, etc.) The customization notion is what makes UGC different from the hive mentality. It allows individuals freedom of expression to modify their PNDs and to decide whether to share these insights with someone else or not.

Those of you scratching your head over this observation are probably not texting, don’t have a page on Facebook or Myspace, and are not members of the “It’s about me” generation. Make what comments you want, but market trends suggest that the “personalization of everything” is a desired quantity for today’s younger consumers.

If you don’t buy the previous argument, try this – UGC formalizes the customer complaint process and makes it a powerful tool by allowing the customer to fix what they think is wrong with your product. In essence, UGC and map updating can be combined to form the ultimate customer service system. Your customer can fix his or her version of your product when a data limitation has interrupted their use of the appliance. They do not need your help or require any of your company’s resources to affect a change. They do not have to stand in line, wait in a phone cue, or send an email to the dreaded customer service organization (who won’t understand the problem anyway). They can simply fix the problem and share the fix with you, if they choose to do so.

So much for the pontificating. Let’s set the background for the following discussions.

What we need to think about is what data elements users can change and where a service or navigation provider might find the greatest return. It is likely that some map changes should be made on PNDs and some more complicated changes might have to be relegated to online systems that could supply aerial imagery and other ancillary data to help the customer explain what is wrong with the data being shown on the PND.

It seems reasonable to assume that data that can be changed relate primarily to things that can be observed by drivers. Not all map or routing attributes are visible or measurable by a casual driver or observer. So, we should expect that the list of “changeable” data elements will be finite and circumscribed by those situations easy to observe that are also easy to correct.

The data we would want to collect from the user to record a “change” to a map database should include the following attributes:

Position (e.g. coordinates, address, cross streets or relative position)
Change Category (e.g. road, street, poi, directionality, address, etc)
Desired User Action (e.g. new position, delete, connect, block, unblock, etc.)
User ID (e.g. anonymous, to be used to sort data returned to user)
Session ID (e.g. time, date and location stamps).

Further, we would expect that the changes that users would want to make would be related to the operations/queries, that users expect to be able to perform with navigation systems. These include:

Display map
Zoom map
Follow me
Find location/Geocoding
Get information about location (address, coordinate, POI types, contact info)
Find path – explicate into a series of maneuvers (create driving directions)
Display route and driving directions
Reroute if not on path
Pronounce street names, speak driving directions

In turn, these operation/queries depend on the data elements that need to be available to allow these queries. A good background can be found in Egenhofer a “What’s Special about Spatial?”

Borrowing from Egenhofer and adding some things we have these data elements to work with (that is we could allow the user to change data in these categories:

Street and Road Inventory
• A comprehensive spatial inventory of streets and roads, including their position, names, address ranges and other characteristics, specifically:
Street and Road Geometry
• Connectivity – from one intersection to another
o Streets do not connect
o Street blocked
• Adjacency – what’s right and left
• Order of linear sequence of landmarks or roads along path
• Metric relations – lengths of sections and cardinal directions or approximate distances.
Other inventories

Some land use, points of interest, business listings including their position, names, addresses, and other characteristics as necessary.

Other geometry
o Related to land use, bridges, tunnels, canals, ferries, etc.

Alternatively, we might collapse all of this into feature categories that we would expect the user to change. (The feature list below is based on the GDF 4.0 ISO standard)

Named areas
General features
Land cover and land use
Road furniture
Roads and ferries
Administrative areas
Public transport

Well, that’s a good start to a complex subject. But we need to convert all of this to UGC categories that are easy to understand and easy to change, subject to the limitation that the data can actually be observed or are available in some way to the user. Let’s think about what that means for UGC and map updating next time.

By the way, I hope to see some of you at ILM in Los Angeles over the next few days. Let’s talk!

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Posted in Data Sources, Geospatial, ILM: 07, Personal Navigation, User Generated Content

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