GOOGLE MAPS’S MOAT
December 20, 2017 6:07 AM   Subscribe

How far ahead of Apple Maps is Google Maps? A rather fascinating analysis of Google Maps' present and future, by Justin O’Beirne.
posted by slogger (84 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is excellent - great post!
posted by lazaruslong at 6:22 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


It is indeed excellent; I went in expecting something along the lines of "Apple Maps still sucks, spend some money, Tim Cook" but the way that he breaks down not just the detail but the granularity of it is fascinating. And now I note that, according to Wikipedia, he is (or at least was recently) head of cartography at Apple.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:27 AM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


I should note that I found this on Twitter, but I lost the actual tweet so I can't share the attribution. If someone else saw it, please post!
posted by slogger at 6:29 AM on December 20, 2017


Thanks that was fascinating :).
posted by invisible_al at 6:47 AM on December 20, 2017


Fascinating!

The fact we are taking geographic and cartographic information and applying algorithms to analyze them seems to have infinite applications. I used to be blown away by the fact that google maps/waze can propose a counter-intuitive shortcut to a place I commonly go, because it can analyze the map. The data-out-of-data makes that look like a totally blunt instrument.
posted by MrGuilt at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I first saw it tweeted by Kyle Neath.
posted by tclark at 6:55 AM on December 20, 2017


Weird, the footprint of my house is completely wrong on Google maps.

Neat article. I wonder what other data they use for all this, other than Street View and aerial imagery. There must be stuff they collect from phones or people checking in or whatever.
posted by bondcliff at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I thought it was precious how the article had to compare flashing bitmaps, but couldn't get the propritary data to compare it, a grumpy old OpenStreetMap contributor writes …

The feature detail is already extractable from LIDAR data that is rapidly getting cheaper to collect, and many cities provide 3D building data free or at low cost. It's no wonder that Google is adding all this detail on its maps. For Google, Maps is an infinite advertising canvas: not just in monetizing listings, but potentially serving you ads on top of the map. Apple, on the other hand, only advertises Apple: it might monetize listings, but it sure won't promote anything that's not about selling Apple services and brands. So of course it has much less to spend.

It still amuses me to see pre-licence change OSM features in Apple Maps, including a bunch of really cruddy lake tracings I made when I had no idea what I was doing.
posted by scruss at 6:58 AM on December 20, 2017 [17 favorites]


On the other hand, I can trust Apple Maps isn't aggregating my location and search data to sell ads against it.

On the third hand, Apple Maps on the desktop is hot garbage, even on High Sierra.

I guess I'll stick with Google Maps on my computer, and Apple Maps on my phone.
posted by SansPoint at 7:10 AM on December 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


Detailed buildings are nice eye candy, but I wonder why they'd think putting white secondary roads on a white background is a good idea.
But hey, lovely 3D view!
posted by farlukar at 7:22 AM on December 20, 2017


This is super interesting! It's also something that seems so common-sense to do, but there's a lot of layers of complication behind it. We are so far removed from the paper atlases every family car had in the back seat, in varying stages of decay. So much progress in such a short time, and things are only moving faster. Sometimes living in the future isn't so bad.

I have one of the smallest houses in my neighborhood, and looking at the footprints on Google maps reminds me just how much smaller my house is than everyone elses' , hah.
posted by Fig at 7:28 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


It makes you wonder how long back Google was planning all of this—and what it’s planning next...

Well what it's doing is figuring out how to monetize the built environment, and your interactions with it. The well-designed maps are a by-product.
posted by carter at 7:35 AM on December 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


And/or, a carrot to get you to use the monetization platform.
posted by carter at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2017



Well what it's doing is figuring out how to monetize the built environment, and your interactions with it.


You can already see this in the so-called 'Areas of Interest' which were more accurately called 'Commercial Corridors' by Annechino and Cheng. The former phrase carries with it the assumption that commerce is the most interesting thing about a city.

In the case of San Francisco for example, the area around the Opera house and City Hall is not an AOI. Why? Not enough shopping to be done there.
posted by vacapinta at 7:43 AM on December 20, 2017 [12 favorites]


That was very very cool.
posted by machine at 7:47 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Google Maps misses my garage entirely. To be fair, in the satellite view, it's largely hidden by a tree.

How often do they update those views, I wonder? The satellite and street view imagery for my neighborhood is clearly dated (I can tell by the long-gone sandbox and wading pool in my yard, plus the door we removed 2 years ago still shows on the side of our house), but the brand new stadium downtown is present, so I know they did a flyover not that long ago...
posted by caution live frogs at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2017


The former phrase carries with it the assumption that commerce is the most interesting thing about a city.

Commerce *is* what makes a city interesting, and this complaint would carry more weight it they also hadn't used it to map park structures. 'Areas of interest' is really too generic to be useful in the context of a city. What if your city is not interesting? Would it have 0 markings on the map?
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:48 AM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


vacapinta - right. Google search has promoted ads, why wouldn't Google maps now have promoted AOIs?
posted by carter at 7:50 AM on December 20, 2017


OK slogger, how did you know I was taking the day off just to hang at home and relax after a stressful few weeks? I'm a long time Bay Area resident and a student of Cartography. You just made my entire day a good day and I already know this even though it's not quite 8:00 a.m.
posted by pipoquinha at 7:52 AM on December 20, 2017 [8 favorites]


How often do they update those views, I wonder?

My house was rebuilt on the property a few years ago and some websites with aerial views (Zillow, Bing) will show you different houses based on the direction of your view. I'm wondering if Google's incorrect footprint for my house is some sort of average of the old house and the new.
posted by bondcliff at 7:53 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Also I should just clarify, yes I think the gmaps design can be good - but also super frustrating, at least for me - and the article is an interesting breakdown of the design gap with Apple.
posted by carter at 7:53 AM on December 20, 2017


If you like this article it's worth reading Justin O'Bierne's other posts about online maps, particularly rendering. He does very meticulous analysis. He's working on a book, I'm assuming these are draft chapters.

Back in the olden times he had a previous blog 41Latitude that had similarly detailed articles from 2010 or so. Then he went to work for Apple Maps and he took it all offline. Some of it is back now and there's new material.

Friends don't let friends disappear inside Apple.
posted by Nelson at 8:01 AM on December 20, 2017 [10 favorites]


Apple Maps has the old location for Angel tube station in London, which isn’t even on the same street as the current location (a new station was constructed on a different point on the line and the old one was closed). The station moved 25 years ago.
posted by w0mbat at 8:06 AM on December 20, 2017 [11 favorites]


Am I the only one who hates that the default satellite view is 3d, and while you can turn it off you can't make it off as a default ? It borks up trees and buildings and distorts something ugly
posted by k5.user at 8:15 AM on December 20, 2017 [5 favorites]


Great post! I was expecting to skim and got really drawn in.

I remember the time when Apple dropped the app for google maps (and for youtube) to push everyone onto their products. I was spending a lot of time motorbiking around Switzerland and apple maps, er, did not have a flawless grasp on the Swiss countryside. I remember spending a lot of time zooming in and out to try and make cities and large towns appear (assuming that they were noted at all) while muffled swearing emitted from my helmet.

On the plus side, the Jura is a really lovely place in which to get totally lost.
posted by chappell, ambrose at 8:16 AM on December 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


My home town has the building outlines, but not the level of detail on the outlines as the author's home town. I also just learned that the people who live in the house I grew up in paved the backyard.
posted by lagomorphius at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2017


This was fascinating. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 8:35 AM on December 20, 2017


We are so far removed from the paper atlases every family car had in the back seat

Um...
posted by Segundus at 8:42 AM on December 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


The thing that's not mentioned at all in this post, and I'm sure informs Googles choices are search and traffic data---the aggregated personal data Google collects by tracking phones in real-time.

This post outlines why I leave it on. There's a couple of examples here. In at least one of the university examples on the map, the Apple Map correctly pins the University location, but Google does something more interesting: at the same scale, it shows where the Admissions building is. Why?

Label space on maps is a scarce commodity. You can't arbitrarily add labels or the map becomes cluttered, hard to read and understand. This reduces the usefulness (and the aesthetics) of your map. Google has to be choosing this intentionally. It's very unlikely to be an accident. Incidentally, the text touches on this problem in the illustration of the market high streets.

Google has added it, IMO, because people search for it. I would bet cash money to say that Google is also informing their maps with what people look for. I believe they're choosing which labels to prioritize based on what people search for.

The other unanswered question in the text is how Google knows to place the rectangles for the commercial high street districts. There's a great discussion about how they get the details, but how did they know to place them and size them in the first place? I'm betting the answer is traffic analysis: where phones are, at what speed (walking or in a vehicle), at what concentration and for how long. They've developed a location-based fingerprint for typical a shopping trip. This (and I'm sure plus search results of things people look for) gives them where the commercial high streets are.

I know they do this already; Google has been telling me about traffic jams for years on my commute. Google knows roughly when I commute every day and actually sends me alerts about potential heavy traffic on the way to or from work. It's not a huge stretch to think someone has worked out the forensic patterns of a trip to the shops.

Some may find this creepy and overly intrusive. I get that; I think it's really important that this be opt-in, not opt-out, for example. There's certainly a conversation or two to be had there. But, for the purposes I need maps and navigation for, these features are all enormously useful to me, personally. And I'm glad to have them at the cost of some personal data.
posted by bonehead at 8:44 AM on December 20, 2017 [28 favorites]


Google wants me to change the way I think about maps; I grew up with maps as ways to find routes; to figure out which way to turn and when, and for orienting one's self within a city / county / state. Back when I first started using Google maps I was so frustrated by it, because it's really not good for being used the way you use a paper map. It seems what it's aiming to be good for is aggregating and displaying data. Which makes sense, especially with the self-driving car event horizon looming. Fascinating!
posted by dbx at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


but I wonder why they'd think putting white secondary roads on a white background is a good idea.

I had this problem with desktop gmaps for a while, until I discovered that it was due to a slight contrast tweak needed on my monitor. Once I adjusted that a couple notches, they showed up nice and clear.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


This seems to be missing a step.

And as we saw earlier, Google has scanned more than 80 billion of its Street View images for place and business information.

But how do they get this information?

Satellite > Building Outlines > ???? > AOI
Streetview > Ground images > ??? > place/businesses

Is this done by OCR? "Joe's Pizza" is clearly a restaurant, but "The Garage" is also a restaurant. Why wouldn't StreetView assume that it's an auto repair place?
posted by AFABulous at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2017


I assume they correlate Streetview data with available address records from other sources, eg their own Google web crawls.
posted by ardgedee at 9:10 AM on December 20, 2017


But how do they get this information?
Businesses input it themselves (sometimes), or there are still "yellowpage-ish" information sources that collect business license info (the majority) and Google probably sources that.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:12 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm with you, dbx - I use maps to orient myself, and learn about a place.
Also, I'll take the Irish Ordnance Survey atlas over Google Maps any day of the week!
posted by dbmcd at 9:12 AM on December 20, 2017


I assume they correlate Streetview data with available address records from other sources, eg their own Google web crawls.

Sure and you can easily buy this data, but I don't understand why streetview itself has anything to do with it.
posted by AFABulous at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2017


Streetview > Ground images > ??? > place/businesses

Have you ever gotten that CAPTCHA where you look at a bunch of pictures and identify which ones look like storefronts?

You are identifying business locations from pictures and then the sign can be parsed for the business name.
posted by muddgirl at 9:17 AM on December 20, 2017 [9 favorites]


For example, Google probably knows building addresses through tax assessor records along with interpolation. You can get zoning from that but not the business type (at least not in Milwaukee). (Also the year built, which isn't in Google AFAIK but it's fun to play with to see how cities have grown.)
posted by AFABulous at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2017


My across-the-street neighbors were extremely sketchy and constantly had a cop car in front of their house. They eventually did something weird enough to get my part of the neighborhood completely removed from Google street view, Google Earth, and their satellite map view. For a while the street didn't even show up on the plain old street maps.

Not that it matters that much, but it is weird to see the homes in surrounding areas rendered in 3D while ours remains flat and discolored.
posted by FakeFreyja at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]




Also don't forget the armies of android users who will fill out the google maps surveys. Simple yes/no questions based on places you have been recently. I do them for local businesses I like all the time, under the presumption that it'll make google likely to drive more traffic to them when someone inputs "cool coffee place" rather than the Starbucks down the street.

Lots, and lots of unpaid labor to coordinate with their massive data collection.

Sure and you can easily buy this data, but I don't understand why streetview itself has anything to do with it.

Accuracy, data correlation, and cost. If you can drive around and figure out businesses by their signs, then you can confirm the accuarcy of your data sets, allowing you to perfectly pinpoint locations. The counter example of this being Apples data based on addresses from these lists being in the wrong place.

Additionally, once Google has a fleet of self-driving cars, that means google maps cars are also self-driving, and that means you don't need to purchase these lists anymore and your map is always up to date. At that point actually you don't even need "map cars" anymore, as every Google Taxi is a data-collecting, city updating machine.
posted by mayonnaises at 9:20 AM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


You can get zoning from [tax assessor records] but not the business type

correction, you can see which buildings are schools and churches and govt property. I don't think it's as granular as auto garage vs. restaurant. I'm most familiar with Milwaukee records so that's what I'm basing this off of.
posted by AFABulous at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2017


As an idle pastime I will sometimes click on the geolocators, should they exist, of various Mefite posters and commenters. About a year ago I started seeing all these coffee shops, burger barns, pizza palaces and whatnot appearing on the zoomed-in maps. Now I know...
posted by jim in austin at 9:23 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I had this problem with desktop gmaps for a while, until I discovered that it was due to a slight contrast tweak needed on my monitor. Once I adjusted that a couple notches, they showed up nice and clear.

Google designers need to check their gamma calibration privilege.
posted by GuyZero at 9:24 AM on December 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


When I am in a new city, looking for stuff to do, with family or without, I whip out any Niantic project on my phone which tells me instantly where all of the AOIs are.

Niantic used to be part of Google. I think there must be collusion there.

Niantic makes Pokemon Go and Ingress. The density of the portals and Pokestops indicates the amount of interest in a particular area. Open it in a town of 1000 and you may get one or two, a water-tower and maybe a fire department. Open it in downtown Seattle, and it is overwhelming how many AOI there are crammed together within walking distance.

The Ingress Intel Map shows all AOI.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 9:42 AM on December 20, 2017 [6 favorites]


RE: How do they know what businesses are where question

Tax Assessor records, unpaid labor etc. yes. Not to be overlooked is the frightening (for loads of reasons) shift of tech direct-hire jobs to one year limited contract-hire via recruiting companies phenomenon. There are a metric ton of work from home jobs where the recruiters are looking for people who reside in a specific region. They are looking for folks who can say "yes, this business is on this corner and it currently exists as a functioning entity."
posted by pipoquinha at 9:44 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


Niantic / Pokemon Go has used OpenStreetmap data for a long time for locating Pokestops (and before, Ingress nodes). They very recently switched to OSM for the actual maps, too, which seems odd for a Google spinoff unless they were actually worried about the cost of using the Google Maps API?
posted by Nelson at 9:48 AM on December 20, 2017


From the footnotes: There’s a small number of buildings, such as Apple’s Cupertino campuses, that Apple is making itself. But these buildings are handmade by artists rather than by algorithms.

That's the most Apple sentence ever written. The buildings on their maps are artisanal.

This whole post was amazing and wonderful.
posted by AgentRocket at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


> " especially with the self-driving car event horizon looming."

When google maps offers you 5% off your ride if you stop at a starbucks on your route, what will you choose?
posted by boo_radley at 10:17 AM on December 20, 2017


The only thing Google maps doesn't seem to be too good at is suggesting places along my route. Whenever I do a search, it leaves out a lot of relevant choices. For instance, I was looking for an ice cream place on my way home from an event. It gave me some false hits, but at least a Dairy Queen. Good enough, I thought. Then when I got there, I saw that I was across the street from a really great local ice cream shop! The Google search didn't even register its existence. Regularly, I find myself needing to stop for lunch or something while driving, and I'm always amazed at how paltry the Google search results are, compared to what actually available. Thanks for showing me where the Auto Zone is, Google, but what I asked for was restaurants.

I don't know why searching along the route sucks so much. I'd be curious to learn more about it. It's not that Google is just giving me, like, the most popular suggestions or anything, since it so often gives completely inappropriate results as well.... For how good Google is at everything else, I'm always just so amazed by this.
posted by meese at 10:17 AM on December 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


Heh, the areas of interest is super bogus in my neighborhood of Chicago.

Here's an area with a high concentration of Asian business on the North side zoomed out, then zoomed in.

A few blocks South, here is Wrigleyville zoomed out, then zoomed in. The highlighted "interest" square is mostly residential, which seems to go against the main posts idea that the interest areas are fine-grained (or if so, something in Wrigley is breaking them).
posted by Wulfhere at 11:27 AM on December 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


I really really want a feature that lets me see all street names where I'm zoomed in, rather than having to scroll a bunch of different ways and zoom levels just to check the name. It happens with enough regularity that maybe I'm doing something wrong but it's not immediately obvious what.
posted by Carillon at 11:33 AM on December 20, 2017 [21 favorites]


There was a concert at the civic center where I think they used some kind of jammer so people couldn't use their phones to film or record. But they left it on when the concert was over and it was powerful enough that it disrupted cell service for two blocks in all directions so you got all these puzzled people trying to get a ride, empty cars right in front of them wondering WTF is up with the Uber app which is trying to send all of us to a narrow alley with a very sharp turn that you will never make in anything longer than a Focus and a bunch of them are impatiently jammed up behind a minivan that can only back out.

Tech was down. Any map app was sending you towards the molten core of the planet for passengers who are not there. I'm not on FB but I know someone who is and she gets the word out. I ignore the drunk guy who keeps trying to tell me he tips really well until he tries to grab me and make me pay attention and none of the cops have a problem with what I do to him.

A female cop points me at the most under dressed women and them at me not because I have a thing for cadaverously cold legs but because they are the ones most likely to make a deal with an entity they don't fully understand. I tell cop I'm coming right back in six and pick another group for me. That goes on for hours.

I can only take cash. Nothing is working. That's OK, there is a free ATM on the way. Are all cashpoints free? Yup. Credit Union thing.

I'd love to see self-driving cars reliant on mapping deal with that.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:13 PM on December 20, 2017 [7 favorites]


There was a concert at the civic center where I think they used some kind of jammer so people couldn't use their phones to film or record.

Uh... is that common? Because while I don't know US law in this area as well as I do UK law, that would seem to be very illegal. Imagine if there was a major incident. Plus, it wouldn't stop phones taking photos or video.

I hope someone's told the FCC.

This does highlight a problem with mobile mapping (and our rush to always-on wireless connected services, and autonomous cars reliant on connectivity and radar sensors) - while you can't jam a paper map, you can wipe out radio over multiple blocks and across all the spectrum used with a couple of hundred dollars' worth of equipment. No GPS, no connection to servers.

I don't know what would happen on a freeway or busy city intersection well stocked with autonomous vehicles if someone turned off all the radio, vehicular radar, etc, but I doubt it would be good. If everything was properly failsafe hardened, the best you could hope for would be a shuddering halt in proceedings, but the consequences could be far worse. And it could be triggered by a shoebox-sized thing that the perpetrator threw out of a window onto a verge a couple of hours beforehand.

Do it right, and you could choke off an entire city area by blocking the right roads at the right time, leaving them all with stationary vehicles, and good luck getting the emergency services past that lot while you do mischief in the middle.

All these terrific mobile location services are, well, terrific. But they're also uniquely vulnerable. More people should be thinking about that.
posted by Devonian at 12:52 PM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Niantic / Pokemon Go has used OpenStreetmap data for a long time for locating Pokestops (and before, Ingress nodes).

Actually, the bulk of Ingress nodes (aka Portals) came directly from Ingress player submissions, not from OpenStreetMap. The exceptions would be the "seed portals" that they started the closed beta of Ingress with back in November 2012 (and probably constitute less than 1% of entries in Niantic's Point of Interest database now). These seed portals were drawn from a few sources, such as the Historical Marker Database, geotagged photos from Google's old Panoramio service (specifically ones in the categories of public art, sculpture, and landmarks), and also certain categories of buildings that even the smallest of towns was likely to have, drawn from public domain listings (Post Offices, Libraries, & Fire Stations).

While I suppose that last type of seed portal could have come from data mined from OpenStreetMap, at the time, the impression I got was that Niantic just got that data from other sources that Google already had on hand. The first I ever heard talk of them using OSM data was during the closed beta for Pokemon GO, when other beta testers concluded that the pokemon type for nest locations was correlated with how that location was classified in OSM.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:01 PM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why streetview itself has anything to do with it.

Actual block-level, door-level data is really hard to trust. You should be able to get that data from the municipality, but if it was badly coded (it probably was) you can't trust it until you've at least verified it with visual observation. My address is on the 800 block of my street, but how many odd numbered or even numbered houses are there, and do they line up? What's the maximum number on either side? Are the buildings all the same width? Are the numbers continuous? Are they even all in the correct numeric order? From just my residential block: odds and evens don't line up, numbers get skipped, and houses and lots are not all the same width.

I've worked in two buildings on the same block downtown. They are the only buildings on that side of the block, and their numbers were 1900 and 1920. Catercorner from 1900 there was an 1899, but the business across from 1920 was 1919 (and the front of that building was actually around the corner). And my niece went to a school that was physically three doors west of where its address should have been.

What the street view data does is provide a really accurate placement for every single address so they're not all on top of each other, or randomly scattered on the footprint of a building (as Apple Maps often does), or randomly/evenly spaced on the length of a block (as Google Maps used to do). The Google Maps advantage here is that they're combining at least four layers of data at once (street-level, satellite, municipal, and commercial). You could do it with fewer bits of data, but the more data you combine the better your results.
posted by fedward at 1:02 PM on December 20, 2017


Uh... is that common? Because while I don't know US law in this area as well as I do UK law, that would seem to be very illegal. Imagine if there was a major incident. Plus, it wouldn't stop phones taking photos or video.

You couldn't transmit them. I don't know if it is common. Probably violates all kinds of FCC stuff here but law is not justice. There were major incidents and major accidents. Seems like nobody died.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:20 PM on December 20, 2017


Google has at least 10,000 employees in India doing things like manually coding street addresses, interpreting highway signs, making 3d models of larger/more important buildings, and providing some manual input for editorial decisions like bike lanes, areas of interest and exact locations of businesses. It's not entirely an AI operation. The genius is that Street View means a small army of low-paid workers can be doing this work without leaving their desks, rather than requiring a massive number of expert on-the-ground cartographers.
posted by miyabo at 1:31 PM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


Don't underestimate the extent to which slick data-driven technologies are dependent on high-volume commodity-priced manual labor. White-collar sweatshops, if you will.

People over the age of 30 who remember phonebooks probably also remember that in the 90s, residences almost everywhere in the U.S. would receive each year both the local telephone company's phonebook and, a few months later, a third-party phonebook with white pages that were pretty similar and yellow pages that were pretty different.

This was because in the early 90s the Supreme Court decided that phone listings could not be copyrighted and anybody could publish a phonebook with the same information. The telcos would not sell their listings databases to their phonebook competitors, so a new industry sprang up: Warehouses in the Philippines full of people operating word processors, transcribing U.S. phonebooks.

The listings data was used both for publishing competitive phonebooks and for sale to direct-mail marketers and anybody else who wanted it, including specialized business directory CD-ROMs during that brief period when CD-ROM multimedia was a megamillion dollar industry and the World Wide Web wasn't... yet...

Why the Philippines specifically? I'm not sure. When I worked for a company contracted to produce one of those CD-ROMs back in the day, that was apparently where our databases were coming from.
posted by ardgedee at 3:27 PM on December 20, 2017 [10 favorites]


To anticipate the question of why didn't they have people operating scanners and depend on OCR: At the time, accuracy rates for OCR were around 99%. On average, one character of every 100 will be missed or mis-interpreted. If the average phone directory listing has about 50 characters (7-digit phone number, name, street number, street name, zip), roughly half the entries will be wrong. Human transcriptionists are far more accurate. It was faster and cheaper to have hundreds of humans typing on whitebox PCs than it was to buy a lot of heavy-duty scanning equipment, hire and train people how to use it, and hire an additional team to proofread the scan data.
posted by ardgedee at 3:36 PM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Google Maps or some subsection of it keeps asking me to answer questions about places it thinks I've been, and presumably that info's useful to someone somewhere. The questions are almost all very car-centric, so I'm not inclined to answer them. If it were to start asking whether and where there's adequate bicycle parking, information nobody else is providing, and make that info available, I'd be more interested in donating free labor to their ever-expanding data collection project.
posted by asperity at 3:44 PM on December 20, 2017 [1 favorite]


I worked with OCR tech in the mid-90s, and yeah, typing would be faster for something like phone books. In order to get decent OCR, you'd have to scan at high resolution, which took up a lot of space (DVDs that held 4GB of data were exotic, expensive things; we charged clients $50 each for loading their data on DVDs), and OCR programs really weren't happy with text sizes below 8 pt.

And there were font issues, especially with numbers; you'd regularly get 0's read as O's or 4's read as A's, because it was looking for words, not phone numbers. You read 408 and it sees AOB because it really wants to believe those are letters.

Every five months or so, there's a tech change: the software upgrades and gets better, storage capacity goes up, the new scanner works faster at higher resolution - which means your whole workflow needs to change, and you have to buy new stuff. Even in the US, typing might've been more efficient; if you could get workers abroad not held to US minimum wages, it'd definitely be cheaper to put more eyes and more hands on the project than buying all the hardware & software required for OCR processing.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 3:48 PM on December 20, 2017



Google Maps or some subsection of it keeps asking me to answer questions


I just discovered that, on Android at least, if you long-press on the notification with that question, you get to a settings menu where you can disable them. I think I've had to do this three times now, for different classes of Maps user interrogation, but it's shut up now and I'm a lot happier.
posted by Devonian at 3:50 PM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


In the case of San Francisco for example, the area around the Opera house and City Hall is not an AOI. Why? Not enough shopping to be done there.

What are you, some sort of Communist?
posted by acb at 4:27 PM on December 20, 2017


Why the Philippines specifically? I'm not sure.

Presumably labour costs, linguistic skills and familiarity with US-style names that could reduce error rates in transcription.
posted by acb at 4:30 PM on December 20, 2017 [2 favorites]


Neat! I guess I never realized it before, but you can see the shape of the my building's courtyard in Gmaps. Also a bit of architectural detail on the big theater nearby.
posted by brundlefly at 4:38 PM on December 20, 2017


> For instance, I was looking for an ice cream place on my way home from an event. It gave me some false hits, but at least a Dairy Queen. Good enough, I thought. Then when I got there, I saw that I was across the street from a really great local ice cream shop! The Google search didn't even register its existence.

Because Dairy Queen's parent corp Berkshire Hathaway is damn sure to pay their Google tax. Unless you search zoomed in within a geographic area ('show all results') then Google somehow decides how to prioritize and cull search results.

In my experience, recently (four years?) Google Maps' algorithm has turned the dial a fair ways from "Show searchers what is popular" to "Funnel searchers to our advertisers"
posted by anthill at 10:59 PM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


For Google, Maps is an infinite advertising canvas: not just in monetizing listings, but potentially serving you ads on top of the map. Apple, on the other hand, only advertises Apple: it might monetize listings, but it sure won't promote anything that's not about selling Apple services and brands. So of course it has much less to spend.

It's incredible to me that Apple caught up and produced such a good (not great, still flawed) product as quickly as they did, actually. I keep rooting for them here because Apple's not in the business of selling me ads or spying on me to nearly the same degree Google is. For that reason I hope Apple has enough in the warchest to keep competing in this space.

Relatedly, I take every face-to-face opportunity I get with Apple people to beg them to become not just the pro-privacy platform (they are close) but also the ad-free platform. Just a big red Settings switch that means no advertising on my phone (maps, news, third party apps, web browser, everything), ever. Because, basically:

1. Apple makes pennies from advertising, anyway, a fraction of a percent of their revenue, and giving it up would cost little while giving them a big new slice of customer loyalty and respect.

2. It would further justify the higher prices that Apple likes to have: you pay more, you get an ad-free experience. People already understand this model. Yes, you can go the cheaper route and use Google/Android, of course, but it's ad supported, so yuck.

3. It cuts Google off from Apple Customers as a revenue stream. Nasty.

4. And nastiest of all, it takes the fight to a place that Google, with its very different business model, simply can not follow.

Apple people who I have not yet badgered with this in person... c'mon!
posted by rokusan at 11:19 PM on December 20, 2017 [4 favorites]


While I'm sitting at my desk planning a trip Google Maps is usually far more useful than Apple's Map. Being able to create custom maps is a marvellous feature.

But when I'm actually out in the new city, and open up the Google Maps app to use my custom map, something almost always goes wrong. For example, while visiting one city my custom map appeared covered in icons for locations I'd added, but then when I zoomed in they all disappeared. I couldn't usefully find the location of anything I'd added.

I now tend to use Apple's Map because while it doesn't promise much it does actually deliver it when I need it.

(It has an awkward tendency to add "pins" while I'm trying to scroll, but, hey)
posted by BinaryApe at 12:15 AM on December 21, 2017


Sorry if somebody pointed this out already, but I think that:

Google has a much clearer goal than Apple. In this case, I believe the goal is successful autonomous transport, whereas Apple just sells flashy gadgets.

Once you want self-driving/flying everything, the steps you need to take are clear, and a super-precise and data-rich image of the whole world comes in quite handy. Maybe the goal is eventually to rid the cars of most sensors so the cars eventually just drive around "blind", i.e. on the basis of centrally distributed and processed spatial/weather data. Also, the vehicles could collect and relay useful information (like potholes, traffic and temporary obstacles).

If this were true, then I'd like to know whether the idea already was around when Google decided it could scan the whole world (and create Google Earth) - i.e. whether Google Earth itself was intended just as a grandiose step towards vehicle autonomy. Personally, I doubt it.

The business case seems to be clear too: while others will either have to make more expensive cars full of sensing technology, or use Google's data (which is being produced with a sizeable head-start), Google will be able to produce cheaper cars/planes/drones AND continue to generate a huge data image of the world (including its inhabitants and their habits/desires).
posted by Laotic at 5:19 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I just want to be able to read the road name under the blue direction line on my phone at night.

That's all I want google, is for the damn exit number and road name to STOP SCALING SMALLER after I'm zoomed way the hell in.

I know it's because you want to nanny my ass into your turn by turn navigation but for real, fuck that noise.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:26 AM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I believe the goal is successful autonomous transport

It's hard to tell with Google, since they're so secretive.

But I've talked to a number of people from HERE, which is a standalone map data company. They mostly sell to car makers who use the data in the built-in car infotainment systems, and they are actually owned by a consortium of car makers. And they absolutely are betting that their owners will need far more detailed and accurate map data as they move to autonomous vehicles, and they're investing billions of dollars in gathering that data right now.
posted by miyabo at 7:50 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


1. Apple makes pennies from advertising,

Apple makes billions a year from their Google search deal which is basically pure profit. It's probably 2-4% of their net income.
posted by GuyZero at 8:05 AM on December 21, 2017


It's incredible to me that Apple caught up and produced such a good (not great, still flawed) product as quickly as they did,

Apple bought/licensed data the same way Google did before 2009-ish. It is indeed a solid product and a circa 2010 mapping product is still pretty useful but they're easily 5-10 years behind what Google is doing.
posted by GuyZero at 8:09 AM on December 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Areas of interest are incredibly useful in places that are lagging in internet adoption.

I am in a city where a flash splash page that has not been updated in 10 years is state of the art for small business websites. A search like "cheap food near me open now" returns very few results, even when I am standing just in front of 6 open food stands*. But just zoom to the level where the orange AOI shows up, walk there, and odds are you will find what you need.

I love this feature.

*(Maybe Google has not found out how to deal with places that are closed unmarked steel curtains or let's say a photocopy place during the day, and turn into sidewalk tacos and antojitos during the night. Call me, my consulting rates are reasonable)
posted by Index Librorum Prohibitorum at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2017


That's all I want google, is for the damn exit number and road name to STOP SCALING SMALLER after I'm zoomed way the hell in.

All I want is for people to stop trying to look at or use their phones while driving. Set the directions and forget it, or look them up before you go, or pull off and park safely. No "I was at a red light!" excuses, since people a) usually don't stop looking before they start moving, and b) miss anything that might happen in front of their cars, like pedestrians who've slipped and fallen, or anyone that might just be too short to see over the hood, like children or wheelchair users.
posted by asperity at 1:00 PM on December 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


> I believe the goal is successful autonomous transport

That may be one goal, but certainly not THE goal. That's thinking too small, and for all their faults, no one accused Google (sorry, Alphabet) of thinking too small.

When I consider these other snippets in this thread:

> Google has been telling me about traffic jams for years on my commute. Google knows roughly when I commute every day and actually sends me alerts about potential heavy traffic on the way to or from work. (To be fair, so does Apple.)

> Google Maps' algorithm has turned the dial a fair ways from "Show searchers what is popular" to "Funnel searchers to our advertisers"

> When google maps offers you 5% off your ride if you stop at a Starbucks on your route, what will you choose?

> The areas of interest is super bogus in my neighborhood of Chicago. Here's an area with a high concentration of Asian business on the North side...

> Google has at least 10,000 employees in India ... [with Street View] a small army of low-paid workers can be doing this work without leaving their desks, rather than requiring a massive number of expert on-the-ground cartographers.

You are gently guided through your day by Big Brother (sorry, Google Assistant) and nudged towards businesses that have paid their Google tax, all powered by an army of menial laborers in far away places. It's definitely A vision of the future. Not sure it's one I want to live in though.
posted by RedOrGreen at 8:46 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Alternately: you are gently guided through your day by a marvel of artificial intelligence that was purely science fiction ten years ago. Nudged towards businesses that have advertised in an ad market that's way more efficient than any medium twenty years ago. Powered by knowledge workers in economies that until recently offered mostly physical day labor and indentured servitude. You have free access to a phenomenally deep and lightning fast store of knowledge without having to leave your desk.
posted by Nelson at 9:37 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


That's all I want google, is for the damn exit number and road name to STOP SCALING SMALLER after I'm zoomed way the hell in.

You can activate turn-by-turn directions, keep swiping/scrolling until you find the exit number/road name (which will be in a readable-size font), and then switch off the turn-by-turn.
posted by AFABulous at 11:02 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Honestly just a large readable list of the turns is enough. I don’t need a map.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:08 AM on December 22, 2017


All I want is for people to stop trying to look at or use their phones while driving.

The future you’re looking for is self driving cars and I welcome that immensely.

I hate driving. It’s like, to me driving itself is just such an asshole move.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:10 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I believe the goal is successful autonomous transport

If that's Google's goal, it must only in the context of "passive drivers are easier to blast with advertisements."
posted by rokusan at 4:11 PM on December 22, 2017


1. Apple makes pennies from advertising,
Apple makes billions a year from their Google search deal which is basically pure profit.


You mean the $3B/year (yes, about 1.5 percent of Apple's revenue) that Google pays Apple in order to be the default search engine on iPhones? Yes, that's pretty much all profit. But if Google decides not to pay this anymore, I'm sure Bing or whoever else is left would be delighted to replace them, so it's not like Apple would lose much if Google decides they don't need those eyes anymore.

My point was that Apple doesn't derive any real revenue from selling their users to advertisers, which is (still, today) Google's main revenue stream. Apple could afford an ad-less user base, but Google could not.
posted by rokusan at 6:31 PM on December 22, 2017


"Also don't forget the armies of android users who will fill out the google maps surveys. Simple yes/no questions based on places you have been recently. I do them for local businesses I like all the time, under the presumption that it'll make google likely to drive more traffic to them when someone inputs "cool coffee place" rather than the Starbucks down the street."

I totally do this too, especially about wheelchair accessibility, because I feel like that's important information AND ALSO if someone else has already entered it I can tell if I can walk there with my stroller. I also go into the "report an error" section manually when there's a road that's wrong, I realize I'm doing work for free for google, but it also feels like a public service.

Especially in Peoria, there was just a way lower volume of data in google maps than there is in the big cities, so entering data was helping local businesses and helping my community. I was always grateful when I noticed an error and when I went back to check, someone had already submitted the correction.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:38 PM on December 22, 2017


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