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MapQuest demystified
April 21, 2006 10:17 AM   Subscribe

"Getting There." MapQuest demystified from The New Yorker.
posted by stbalbach (21 comments total)

 
Nice read.
Thanks
posted by subaruwrx at 10:41 AM on April 21, 2006


A ridiculously bad article. The author made zero effort to understand how GPS systems work in ordinary use.

He interviewed people who sell the underlying maps -- guess what, they like GPS! -- and an aged antiquarian who refuses to use GPS.

His own research he confined to driving in New York City -- inexcusably lazy, given that New York City is the worst possible example for any driving situation or technology, given its unique geography and its uniquely low percentage of miles-traveled in non-taxi private car.
posted by MattD at 10:43 AM on April 21, 2006


Navigation depended, mainly, on asking people along the way where to go next—an untenable state of affairs, it would seem, as long as the drivers were men, which most of them were.

Women be different from men!
posted by byort at 10:44 AM on April 21, 2006


Google Maps is the best.
posted by rxrfrx at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2006


True dat.
posted by dig_duggler at 10:50 AM on April 21, 2006



posted by zsazsa at 10:57 AM on April 21, 2006


I thought this bit was neat:

In 1909, an engineer named J. W. Jones invented a device called the Jones Live-Map, which connected to a car’s odometer. It consisted of a glass-enclosed dial, on which you could place a disk representing a particular trip. The disk had mileage numbers around the perimeter and driving directions printed like spokes on the face. As you progressed down the road, the disk would rotate, telling you where you were and what to do. Live-Map No. 16, for example, guided the “motorist tourist” from Columbus Circle to Waterbury, Connecticut (specifically, the Elton Hotel), telling him, at various intervals, to “take right fork at flag pole,” “pass under trolley arch,” or “caution for dangerous curves.” A promotional booklet for the Jones Live-Map read, “You are always sure of your road. . . . You fly past sign boards at speed without a thought. You never stop to inquire your way. Right or wrong, all chance information is useless to you. You are as easy about your road as though you were ‘running on rails.’ ”
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:59 AM on April 21, 2006


You know, The New Yorker isn't exactly famous for displaying accurate maps in their magazine.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 11:02 AM on April 21, 2006


Every time I hit a MapQuest map I'm disappointed that I can't click-and-drag to move my point of focus. Google Maps has spoiled me.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:06 AM on April 21, 2006


From the article:
After lunch, Arcari and Singh were due back at the central office, in Syosset, to download their findings. They offered to drive me back into Manhattan, but we agreed that it would make more sense for me to take the subway. None of us knew where to find it, though. Subway stations are not attributes; Navteq honors the primacy of the automobile, promulgated by the makers of road maps of a century ago, whose mandate was to promote auto travel and, with it, the purchase of gasoline, cars, and tires. We pulled into a gas station, and I ran inside to ask for directions.
posted by Chuckles at 11:15 AM on April 21, 2006


New York City is the worst possible example for any driving situation or technology, given its unique geography and its uniquely low percentage of miles-traveled in non-taxi private car

New York City isn't just Mahattan. How is the geography of Queens or Brooklyn unique, and how does the number of miles traveled in non-taxi private cars affect use of the technology?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:26 AM on April 21, 2006


Well played, rxrfrx, dig_duggler, and zsazsa.
posted by designbot at 11:37 AM on April 21, 2006


After driving across the country with my GPS, I realized what a big, big deal they are. Indoor lighting, especially the electric bulb, did away with the dark, one of humanity's oldest and deepest fears. The GPS did away with being lost. You always know where you are, at least if you have a reasonable amount of unobstructed sky available.

It's hard to explain just what a big deal that is... if you miss a turn in a strange city, it's no biggie. I took the wrong freeway, at night, in DFW, and lemme tell you, that's a bad city to do that, even in the daytime. With the GPS, I was back on track within 10 minutes, without ever having to stop... and this was an early unit without automatic reroutes or anything. Simply knowing almost immediately that I was off track let me fix the problem with a minimum of effort/stress.

I would hate taking long road trips without one, now. Being incapable of getting lost is a wonderful thing. And if you're a person who LIKES getting lost, you can just turn it off, and think of it as a safety net. :)
posted by Malor at 12:02 PM on April 21, 2006


His own research he confined to driving in New York City -- inexcusably lazy, given that New York City is the worst possible example for any driving situation or technology

The article is in the New Yorker, remember. They'll never admit that another city on earth exists.
posted by painquale at 12:05 PM on April 21, 2006


MattD - the articles wasn't about GPS. It was a layman's piece, from a human interest angle, about mapping / cartography and route-finding... not positioning.
posted by bobot at 12:54 PM on April 21, 2006


This was a great article. Thanks stbalbach.
posted by grouse at 2:25 PM on April 21, 2006


His own research he confined to driving in New York City

He's writing for the New Yorker. This is the only map they can use...

posted by andrewraff at 3:48 PM on April 21, 2006


Well played, rxrfrx, dig_duggler, and zsazsa.

Double true.. from the article:
For example, in the recent “Saturday Night Live” mock-rap video “Lazy Sunday” two guys seeking “the dopest route” from the West Village to the Upper West Side consider using Yahoo! Maps:

“I prefer MapQuest!”
“That’s a good one, too.”
“Google Maps is the best.”
“True dat.”
“Double true!”
posted by stbalbach at 6:18 PM on April 21, 2006


MapQuest and Google Maps are neat, I'm sure.
But if you require maps to some more obscure location like, for instance, Australia, you need MultiMap.

They have far greater coverage, but a klunkier interface.
posted by spazzm at 6:33 PM on April 21, 2006


You know, The New Yorker isn't exactly famous for displaying accurate maps in their magazine.

Nicely played.

I agree with bobot, GPS was secondary to the article, which was primarily about this disconnect between the aerial-view map and the waypoint map and how people interact with them differently.

My own experience with GPS navigation is colored by a seriously mistaken route one installed in our Hertz rental suggested in Atlanta a few years ago where the system did not know about a certain ramp, and the vector display did not make clear that if we followed the main curve of the road we would end up here and if we followed the split we would end up there, because they were just, you know, identical white lines. So we followed the "veer left" directions onto the split (or vice versa, I forget), and under a flyover ramp, and found ourselves cut off from the route the system was now telling us to take. We ended up having to get off the expressway, cut back under it, and get back on, all the while with the stupid thing barking at us "You are too far EAST go back". Yeah, we know that, motherfucker.

I'm sure they've improved since then, but I haven't had the pleasure.
posted by dhartung at 9:06 PM on April 21, 2006


...because a map, for all its charms, is really a smorgasbord of chance information, most of it useless. Who cares where Buffalo is, if you’re trying to get to Coxsackie? Most people just want to be told where to turn.

Most people are the dregs of humanity.
posted by furtive at 6:58 AM on April 22, 2006


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