[Openstreetmap] What effect might Google.map have on the world and society in general?

Roger Longhorn ral at alum.mit.edu
Fri Jun 17 16:47:54 BST 2005


The following e-mail exchange took place a couple of weeks ago regarding 
the impact or importance of Google.maps hitting the Internet. The original 
query was - what difference does it make - if any - why is it a 'big deal' 
(if it is?).


>>[Reply 1] The big deal for 'ordinary' people is the increased 
>>accessibility. Google is the main entrance to the web for most people, I 
>>think. Therefore the accessibility to maps etc. has increased 
>>dramatically. I think that most 'ordinary' people did not know how to 
>>find maps before, and many of them even did not know that maps and route 
>>planning etc. were available or even existed.
>[RAL reply] I have to second thesse comments. Use of Google for finding 
>anything on the net is rapidly becoming universal practice, even 
>(especially? ;>) among the academic set, but certainly among the general 
>population. I state that anecdotally, based on my own experiences with a 
>wide range of friends and colleagues who have absolutely nothing to do 
>with the ICT or information industries, yet are all fully Google-aware and 
>use it frequently.
>However, they all also seem to know about MapQuest, MapPoint, etc. for 
>getting route directions and/or local maps, and UpMyStreet for local 
>information, so I think it would be fair to say that anyone who already 
>knows about, and how to use, Google probably already has exposure to 
>"maps" and associated location-based information, at least of the travel 
>variety, as well, even if they don't realize it.
>The "big deal" here is, to me, that more and more people *do* need to be 
>enticed and encouraged into "map awareness" as the prelude to geographic 
>information awareness if they are ever to be able to intelligently use the 
>new Web-based services that we hope will some day result from all this SDI 
>hype and activity - and expense! Unfortunately, there is still a very wide 
>gap between using a fairly non-challenging travel map and intelligently 
>interpreting a "map" produced by a GIS that mixes and overlays multiple 
>data layers, from mixed sources, of mixed quality, accuracy and currency, 
>which is then used by that same non-IT-literate and 
>non-cartographic-literate person to make a vital local planning decision 
>on urban renewal or rural environmental management. The non-expert tends 
>to look at a map - especially one "created by the computer, you know" - 
>and takes it for granted that what you see is what you get in the real 
>world. Often, nothing could be further from the truth. (One of my 
>favourite books is "How to lie with maps" - companion on my bookshelf to 
>"How to lie with statistics" - both of which *should* be required reading 
>for all students, not just GI Science students).

Response 3:

 From a geographer's or a GISer's viewpoint the thematic part of the app is 
no big deal. From an informatics standpoint it is another great example of 
how the people at google renounce traditional views of how to build things, 
and go straight for simple, powerful implementations on their own. Many 
blogs/lists are asking why they did not use GIS technology. The consensus 
seems to be that they didn't need to, and that a GIS would have just mucked 
up the works, slowed things down: too much software overhead which does not 
help to zoom/pan fast on map tiles.

The speed at which the maps.google.com app pans maps in near-real-time, is 
truely impressive. That you can't really do much with (on top of) the maps 
is another thing. Also slightly disappointing is that when some map hackers 
started building their own aps on top of google maps, without permission, 
they received cease and disist orders from the california company. Free to 
look at, but not exploit, apparently.

Response 4:

Let me ask my own question: Who actually is "quite excited about Google 
maps"? So far, I have only seen computer journalists who were excited. If 
that is true, we could assume that they know already MapQuest and MapPoint, 
so that can't be the reason. All the other arguments would apply equally, 
Google Map hasn't really brought anything new to the plate. MapQuest opened 
up a new way of looking at space, etc, all that jazz.

I believe that the novelty is the "Google Effect". After Apple, Google has 
created a new group of evangelists that find everything far out, totally 
new, absolutely cool, only because it is Google.

I don't mean to play down Google's achievement. Google has brought in a new 
way of looking for information (whenever I start a new topic, students 
immediately go to Google to find material - and panic if the can't find 
anything. So, Google has changed our way of dealing with info 
fundamentally. But with maps, they are followers just like Microsoft

I tried two directions with Google Map, MapPoint and MapQuest:

1. From 595 Midvale St,. Coquitlam, BC, Canada (our home)
     To: 1402 Noons Creek, Port Moody (a friend's)
     There is a slight error: it is Noons Creek Drive. Also, the 1400 block 
seems to be fairly new.

2. From 595 Midvale St,. Coquitlam, BC, Canada
     To: Sasamat Lake, Port Moody, BC, Canada
     It turned out that Sasamat Lake is situated in Belcarra, the next 

MapQuest gave me the most trouble. Only after several tries it gave me a 
choice of blocks on Noons Creek Dr., the 1400 block not included. MapQuest 
never found Sasamat Lake.

MapPoint gave me a map with directions after two trials for Noons Creek but 
didn't find Sasamat Lake.

Google Map's reaction is interesting: It immediately gave me a map with 
directions for  the first question and gave me a list of institutions in 
Port Moody and one which had the term :"Sasamat" in it (a children's camp 
on the Lake), with addresses etc.

Conclusion: I would have given up on MapQuest for both questions and on 
MapPoint for the second. Google just gave me everything it had on the 
addresses and let me choose whether I wanted it or not.

This reminds me of a discussion in the late sixties in connection with 
SYMAP, the first computer mapping program, developed at Harvard University. 
Symap needed a series of parameters (given by one punch card each) and a 
data set of coordinates. If any of the parameters was missing, it used its 
own "default" parameters and kept on with the task. The worst you could get 
was a 13*13 inches empty area with a frame of plus-signs.

This was bitterly attacked by many of the traditional cartographers who 
argued that a  mapping program should only produce a map after the user has 
done everything right. Otherwise it could happen that somebody with neither 
cartographic knowledge nor good knowledge of SYMAP could accidentally 
produce a good-looking map.

SYMAP was, like Google, the "new kid in town" and did things differently, 
making it easy for the user to get results. The analogy between 
Mapquest/MapPoint and cartographers is stretched a little farther. In the 
cartographers' case, they wanted to protect their profession, MapQuest and 
MapPoint just have very inflexible search engines.

Reply (from originator of query): "Ok, I can see the access issue you guys 
are pointing out. I also understand the "map  awareness" part you mention 

I wonder if 'deeper forces' are not at work though.

Imagine you are Oracle. You can not only query and distribute information, 
but also have the capability to perform spatial analysis (some). Couple 
that 'inside database' functionality with  millions of new map aware people 
and it spells  A) control and  B) cash - especially if you can handle 
raster  images (e.g. satellite info).

Consider for a moment the Bentley product 'ProjectWise'  which essentially 
aggregates information to a coordinate or area, collecting Excel files, 
shapefiles, Access files and Oracle files - everything. This appears as a 
transparent box on the desktop showing all the links of data found relative 
to location. This is an interesting concept and is on the market today.

The broader point to consider about Google Map is the fact that anyone can 
hack the API and produce a map for their own use and purpose. Am I correct 
in assuming that this ability then means that "social networking and 
communication" is a driving force behind Google maps?  If we can all 
produce a map with personal or work related things and share them quickly, 
isn't that bound to change communication patterns both in space and content?"


Any comments or observations from the "community based mapping" community 
would be most welcome. I'm especially interested in hearing any views on 
where you see "user-centric mapping" going in the next few years, as the 
technology gets ever cheaper and the tools become more easy to use and as 
GI becomes ever more ubiquitous, embedded into lots of different types of 
information datasets and systems.

Kind regards

ral at alum.mit.edu
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.openstreetmap.org/pipermail/talk/attachments/20050617/c47654f9/attachment.html>

More information about the talk mailing list