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LBS & tourism through the eyes of a postgrad marketing student in New Zealand.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Muddle Over Mapping

I was reading this CNet article and noticed that location-based services got a mention:

A question on location-based services saw Ballmer plug Microsoft's "heavy investment" in mapping. But when a participant asked why MapPoint had not expanded to Southeast Asia so such services could be built, Ballmer was stumped.

"I didn't know we weren't doing well there," he said. "I'll address that with the team vigorously."

That doesn't sound hugely encouraging... And then I saw this NYT article (login required) about how users are becoming disillusioned about online maps:

ONLINE mapping services were supposed to be a godsend for business travelers when they were introduced a few years ago. But for motorists like Diane Taub, the devil was in the turn-by-turn directions.
Roughly 1 in 50 computer-generated directions is a dud, according to Doug Richardson, the executive director for the Association of American Geographers. He blames inaccurate road information for most of the failures.

"You have to have the latest data about road characteristics - things like one-way streets, turns and exits in your system in order for it to generate accurate directions," he said.

Even if the streets remained static, online mapping would be an inexact science. Most of the major Web sites draw their data from a small group of competing suppliers and update their maps quarterly. They use a process called geocoding, which assigns a latitude-longitude coordinate to an address, to find a destination. Then their systems calculate the most efficient route. Each site handles the data in a slightly different way, which is why search results vary from mapping site to mapping site.

Online maps are free, of course. And to get something that hits the mark most of the time and doesn't cost anything, well, where's the catch?

If you're out for a Sunday drive, there is none. But business travelers know that the errors can be costly, especially when a deal hangs in the balance. The more business travelers lean on the Web-generated instructions, the greater the chance they will eventually drive away with a printout that leads them down the wrong road.
Online mapping specialists say the directions will probably never be completely dependable, at least for business travelers on important road trips.

"Maps are generalized, graphic devices that help us understand the world," said Michael Peterson, the chairman of the International Cartographic Association Commission on Maps and the Internet and a professor of geography at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "But they are not accurate depictions of reality."

So are online maps as good as they can get? Unless the world stops changing, the answer may be yes.

That doesn't mean you have to get lost. To improve your chances of making your next business meeting, consider buying a navigational computer that uses G.P.S. technology. Those systems constantly monitor your position and calculate the most efficient course. An old-fashioned atlas would help, too.

If people are becoming increasingly distrustful of online mapping/directional services, does this mean that they will be more likely to pay for a navigational device like those offered by Navman, or will they give up on digital mapping altogether and stick with a paper atlas? Probably a combination of both...


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