Google Works to Solve ‘Last Block Problem’
Google announced that it will now allow users to change address information in Google Maps. This will let any registered user click and drag map arrows to a different place on the map if they are incorrect.
This is analogous to Google letting businesses edit and contribute data to its Local Business Center, which enhances the organic business listings that surface in Google Maps SERPs. This latest development extends similar capability to the rest of the online user population (or at least registered Google users) and has the similar goal of improving local listing data.
All search engines and online local search pure plays are trying to differentiate themselves in many ways, given fragmentation and tight competition. One of those ways is through better data, and Google has taken a decidedly open approach to having users improve and add to the data. Personalization and social features (Google Maps Reviews, MyMaps, etc.) also go a certain distance in accomplishing this goal.
The most recent announcement, however, is less about business information and more about address accuracy. This comes down to a fundamental flaw in underlying mapping data that I like to call the “last block problem.”
Points on a map are placed within a given block based on an extrapolation of their addresses. For example 550 Lombard St., is placed halfway up the block on the North side of the street. But the actual location might not be there exactly.
This isn’t a huge problem because it gets you pretty close, but it could be a roadblock (no pun intended) to further innovation in mapping, now that we are drilling further down to the block level with lots of products (Street View, Everyscape, etc.). The issue also has different implications based on population density and urban vs. rural maps.
Since currently, the base technology is constrained, Google is tapping users to go the last few feet. This likely won’t gain the adoption it requires to make a sizable and evenly distributed impact across all Google’s coverage area, but it could prove to be an interesting experiment.
It will also require some manual quality control and filtering on the part of Google, which will add some latency to the process and could be an adoption barrier by taking the fun out of it and eliminating any instant gratification. But we’ll see how it catches on.
The Google Lat Long blog has more, including a quick video that explains how it works, and SEL has a deeper dive with some screen shots. Lastly, John Hanke, director of Google Earth and Google Maps (and founder of Google Earth forbearer, Keyhole), will keynote TKG’s upcoming Interactive Local Media conference. We’ll see what he has to say about it.
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What about propogating this data into Google Earth? Is that happening yet? Is that a next step?
Good question Carey. If it indeed improves map data accuracy, you’d think there would be some kind of feedback loop to plug the updated data back into Google Earth as well. I’ll be sure to ask John Hanke this question at ILM:07.