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Mike Dobson of TeleMapics on Local Search and All Things Geospatial

Gate Keepers, Digital Gazetteers and Folksonomies – Part Two

February 17th, 2009 by MDob

Last time I began our discussions on the concept of “authoritativeness” and map quality.

The issue is of interest to geographers, cartographers, and me because maps and geography has been “rediscovered”, popularized and reinvented, largely by publishers on the Internet. In addition to making map data widely available, several Internet publishers, (e.g. Google and Yahoo), also let the public republish the map data they provide (without fees) and freely provide access to APIs that let anyone willing to use them manipulate and display these data in a variety of forms. Map mash-ups, a process of graphically conflating data from Navteq or TeleAtlas with data of the user’s choice, have become the standard-bearers of geographic information through much of the world.

As noted in our previous blog, the base map data that underlay the majority of these presentations are from Navteq and/or TeleAtlas, along with a number of less prominent suppliers. The databases from Navteq and TeleAtlas are navigation databases, focused on supplying information on navigable links in local transportation networks that are tied together by a network of county, state, and national roads/highways. Further, the effort spent building these databases is focused on the collection of attributes for the links in a transportation network that will allow the creation of a legal navigable path and route guidance data (driving directions/vehicle maneuvers ) between locations referenced in the database. The makers of these databases are not concerned with geographic features (mountains, rivers, seas, oceans, etc.) although they are interested in postal geography. Their interest is in finding locations that you can drive to, nothing more, nothing less. In the future, these companies will become more concerned with elevations and slopes for Advanced Driver Assistance Systems, but they will still not need to know the name of the slope or the mountain or valley with which it is associated.

Navteq and TeleAtlas are interested in creating map databases that serve the markets for navigation. To date, their greatest economic successes have been in the “onboard” arena through their support of in-dash and portable navigation units (PNDs Smart Phones, etc). Countries that do not have a significant navigation market, usually do not have coverage in the databases of Navteq or TeleAtlas and rightfully so. Why would they provide map coverage in a market where it was unlikely they could profitably sell their product?

If you need convincing of this, look at both company’s coverage of transportation networks in developing countries.

Please, make no mistake about my admiration of what Google has done for mapping, as well as the monumental contributions of Navteq and TeleAtlas. Nevertheless, the combination of free data, free tools and free distribution (via the Internet) has allowed many users to consider Google, Yahoo and Microsoft’s map APIs to be cartographic systems and just the thing to publish authoritative maps – not just street and road maps, but reference maps as well. It is this issue that causes me to wonder about the use of the term “authoritative” and its possible application to the widespread use of maps on the Internet.

As mentioned in my last blog, it is my opinion, one that I am sure is not shared by everyone, that there are few remaining, authoritative print-based cartographic publishers. The products of those who remain in existence are no longer relevant to a population that is literate, but prefers not to read from print products and not to own books/atlases or other “reference material”.

Given all of these considerations, what form will reference mapping take in the future? Will the “Internet Gap” that seems to exist between developed countries and developing countries now become a “geography gap”? Will we see the situation where maps of developing countries aren’t published or are not authoritative because all that is available is obligatory outlines in an online database derived from navigation data? Will the Internet World simply forget about the less developed world? Of course not, but how will we deal with the problem of “authoritativeness”?

Since Navteq and TeleAtlas would, quite reasonably, appear not interested in becoming an authoritative reference for borders, feature, names and other spatial data that do not benefit their sales, will Google, Yahoo or Microsoft want to take up that the mantle of “geographic authority”? While Microsoft is clearly the leader in this respect, their lead is based on the success of their Encarta service (originally Expedia), which may be a tenuous hold. See the following images of Cuba by the “Big Three” for evidence of Microsoft’s lead.

Cuba by Google Maps

Cuba by Yahoo Maps

Cuba by Microsoft (Windows Live)

Google has decided to use its Map Maker functionality to help provide mapping in some countries of the world. Well, it’s an alternative and it does include User Generated Content, a concept near and dear to my heart. However, whether UGC and common knowledge can produce authoritative products appears problematical. Let’s look at this issue the next time, but until then look at these map images from Google and ponder what influence UGC has had on the resolution of these blunders. Mouse the images for additional captions.

The Alpsee in Hohenschwangau, Germany, so loved my Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria, seems to have dried up. Hohenschwangau is home to the Neuschwanstein Castle, one of Germany’s top tourist attractions. Am I the only one who noticed the missing lake?

Just where is the Alpsee?

Oh, there it is on the satellite image.

Alpsee returns along with its famous swans

I did not know you could drive to Cozumel. I guess this would be an easy way to get a start on your diving. Warning, do not try this maneuver while on vacation. There is no bridge between the mainland and Cozumel. It appears that this is a border incorrectly extended to Cozumel, although if you zoom-in , it is a “border” with ramps. Hard to believe this has not been noticed by other users.

The Bridge to Cozumel - good idea, but bridge does not exist.

While in the area, I think I want to visit Tulum. Is there more than one? Well, I really do not know, but it is not this one (by the way, Felipe Carrillo Puerto is to the west).

If this is Tulum, where is the famous, walled Mayan city?  I'll check the satellite image.

but certainly not in the tidal pools

Hmm, not here either, nor is the famous, walled, Mayan city

Of course, I could choose between the two Tulums (hard to type, harder to say) on this map (the one at the top is correctly located).

How do I disambiguate these?

By the way, I moved the search bar on these images to sit above the maps of Tulum so you could see the search and its results. I made no other modifications to the images other than scaling and clipping them to fit on my blog pages. I am not sure why the first search provided the result it did.

Finally, I know I should not highlight the mistakes of others, given the number of typos that appear in my blog. I do so only to try to support the points that I hope to make in my writings. Of course, I did not take a dig at ESRI, even though they license their customers the same data used by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. Gasp, you mean even ESRI users might not be aware of data misuse, data quality issues and authoritativeness? Now I feel better – no sacred cows here.

And one more thing. Sounds like a “bidness” plan is called for – somebody might make a buck or two by serving as the independent “authority” for all these people. Seemed to work for Don Cooke!

Until next time,


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Posted in Data Sources, folksonomy, geographical gazetteers, Google, Mapping, Microsoft, Navteq, TeleAtlas, Yahoo

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