Gate Keepers, Digital Gazetteers and Folksonomies – Part Four
In our last blog, we took a look at Google’s “Map Maker” as an example of the possible issues surrounding the “authoritativeness” of maps and geospatial data in the online world. We ended the article by nosing around the implications of Google using the Map Maker data in Google Maps, instead of keeping it quarantined in My Map Maker. Let’s pick up that thread here.
Today’s topic is complex and laced with interesting concepts. It is unlikely that I will be able to finish the topic in this blog. In addition, having spent the last few days thinking through most of the issues, it now occurs to me that covering the topic adequately, would take a book, but that is not my goal. As a consequence, I may gloss over some areas of interest to you. If so, write a comment or let me know and I will be glad to share my views.
I hope you looked through the images I presented last time, as well as to look into Map Maker. Google is very serious about this effort. Just look at this collection tool that Map Maker users can call up to annotate their data. Pretty serious, huh?
It appears to me that Google currently uses data that were originally captured by UGC through Map Maker in their Google Maps application. Look at Sri Lanka in Map Maker (with no copyright) and in Google Maps (with copyright).
Map Maker Version
Google Maps Version
The maps appear substantially similar.
Next, take a look at this image from the blog Google Maps Mania that shows Google Maps version of Sri Lanka and the Map Maker version at an earlier point in time ( I think the image is from February, but that is just speculation in my part based on the blog publishing date).
Let’s conclude the Google has or will import Map Maker data into Google Maps, after it has been determined to be fit for Google’s purposes. In turn, we might ask “What is Google’s Goal in publishing these maps”, “How will Google analyze these maps and determine them fit (authoritative) for from some specific purpose?”, “How will Google update these data?” and “Is Google prepared to continue to collect and repurpose UGC-based mapping data over long periods of time?”
Some of you might think “why is this any different from what TomTom is doing with Map Share?” First, TomTom owns a company that creates navigable map databases and has experience in map compilation, evaluating user-generated content, and map updating. Second, TomTom provides data to Google in the countries that it covers and Google will begin to provide the data they collect through UGC to TeleAtlas. So, let’s go back to Google
Google’s Mapping Strategy
A. I know this will sound too simplistic, but, I suspect, in part, that Google is providing its excellent mapping applications because the company’s self-proclaimed mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
B. On a second level, Google’s map applications drive a substantial amount of traffic to Google’s online properties and since they will now have detailed maps of areas that no one else has, Google’s comprehensive map coverage strategy could become a traffic driving bonanza and a competitive advantage.
C. In addition, I suspect that there is a certain degree of “strategic” nudging here. Michael Jones (CTO of Google Earth, Maps , Local) at the 2007 Cambridge Conference indicated that Google would like to work with national mapping agencies, since they had the best data, but didn’t have to in order to meet Google’s corporate goals. Although I am not trying to put words in Mr. Jones’s mouth, if you listen to the transcript of his presentation, it seems that he was saying if you (national mapping agencies) let us use your data at the right price and with the right permissions, we would be glad to do so. If you don’t’, we can recreate what we need with UGC. (You have to listen to the recording of his presentation to get all of this, but I think this is a fair summary).
D. In addition to Google’s other goals, mapping is important to the company because it supports their AdWords advertising program. More specifically, Local search is an integral part of the Google Advertising Empire. The ability to drive consumers to the physical location of advertisers (stores/shops) that have advertised on Google and/or through its ad network are an important component of the company’s financial success. Adding map coverage with an accuracy level that meets their requirements for Local Search–based advertising may simply be a response to Google’s goal of providing online advertising services around the world.
E. This line reasoning takes on even more value when you consider that their competitors (e.g. Microsoft and Yahoo) buy map data either from the same company used by Google or from Navteq, which offers map coverage similar to TeleAtlas. In essence, Google’s attempt to expand their map base through UGC may show their intent to create a sustainable competitive advantage based on map coverage.
F. Next, the Map Maker/Google Maps infrastructure makes it even more difficult for Nokia to create an advertising network that could challenge Google in the mobile advertising marketplace. Nokia’s map coverage would, presumably, be limited to that provided by Navteq (which has no substantial UGC channel) and is non-competitive with Google in terms of coverage. More importantly, cell phone use in developing countries and Asia (both locations suffer from poor map coverage) is the major mode of telecommunications. If Google can procure maps for these areas through UGC and apply them to Local Search advertising, it will have a leg up on their competitors.
(You have noticed that Google now relies on TeleAtlas for its maps and no longer works with Navteq? (If you read the release, you might notice that the agreement gives TA access to the comments of Google users to its maps, but does not mention access to Map Maker, thus preserving any strategic advantage Google might create using Map Maker.)
Well, I think we have some of the thought behind Google’s strategy, but now we should turn to how Google is determining the accuracy of its UGC, its fitness for use, updating these data and committing to collecting and maintaining them in the long run. Let’s look at these issues next time and hopefully start weaving this back to “authoritativeness” in mapping.