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The Geek Behind Google's Takeover of the Map (fastcompany.com) 97

tedlistens writes: Google's map isn't just a map. It's a living, complex manifestation of the data that billions of users and a team of thousands of engineers and designers feed it every day. The public face of the company's mapping effort is Ed Parsons, a gregarious Briton and geographer who as Google's Geospatial Technologist evangelizes for its mission of organizing the world's geographic information. He also works on building the trust the company needs to make Google Maps and Google Earth more detailed, useful, and increasingly, 3-D and interactive -- what he describes as "a selfie for the planet."

The terrain isn't easy: that mission faces challenges from cartographical purists, hoping to preserve the art of cartography, and the democratic mappers of OpenStreetMap ("it's become almost a parody"); from governments seeking to police sensitive borders; from a host of tech companies fighting over the map business; and from privacy defenders concerned about what Google does with that data. "We're kind of looking at what to do with it. We've got a very rich source of data there, but also one that we have to be very careful of," he says. "Your location on the planet is one of the most sensitive pieces of information that anyone can hold on you."

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The Geek Behind Google's Takeover of the Map

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    How about this? I get that providing more relevant information to me requires storing some location history information. Fine. But let me be in charge of it and able to selectively delete entries, reduce the resolution of the data, or easily erase it altogether. Furthermore, the most difficult thing for Google (another services) seems to be resisting the urge to share all that data with advertisers. I would find it far easier to appreciate what the nerds at Google have done if it was really about the techno

    • by SirSlud ( 67381 )

      You can do all of this, already. Kinda makes you wonder, what else are you wrong about?

      • yes you can delete the data, but it isn't easy to find, especially on mobile devices.

        my google maps still shows a favorite spot, from a year ago. on one hand this make sense on the other it is an ex girlfriend, and I have purged the data from google maps several times since then.

        You can never erase it all, and it keeps coming back. echoes of the past that should be forgotten.

        • Click on the star on the map, and when the menu slides up from the bottom, click on the gold star there, when it turns the star white, it will be gone.

          • I did that.

            Yet once started you have to unstar it from all devices separately. Which is what gets me. You can unstar it from your phone, but if you don't also unstar it from your tablet it shows back up again. Now this is only for starred locations that you visited with both, etc.

      • by Etcetera ( 14711 )

        You can do all of this, already. Kinda makes you wonder, what else are you wrong about?

        You can ask Google to do this. Once it's off your device, it's off your device.

        Hopefully, we'll start demanding en masse for more and more data to remain on your device. F Google, Apple, and Facebook's cloud learning systems. For the actual processing and interpretation of data, we all have more than enough processing speed and more than enough space in the devices sitting in our pockets to parse through it offline.

        Download Offline Maps, download a daily set of ads and rules, and let the CPU in my phone dec

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Vacuuming up your personal information and selling it to advertisers is literally google's entire reason for being.

      That's like saying you'd like McDonald's better if there wasn't so damn much food there.

    • by tomhath ( 637240 )
      FTFA:

      "Your location on the planet is one of the most sensitive pieces of information that anyone can hold on you."

      "sensitive" = valuable to Google

      But let me be in charge of it

      Ha, Ha. You're a funny guy. That was a joke, right?

    • "the most difficult thing for Google (another services) seems to be resisting the urge to share all that data with advertisers. "

      Sharing the data with advertisers is why Google search as a whole remains the incredible free resource we take for granted. I have seen estimates that if Google were run entirely by subscription. it would cost each of us about $150 per month.

      Furthermore, a large percentage of my searches on Maps are for businesses. Why wouldn't you want the staff to know which businesses, and kind

      • by epine ( 68316 )

        I have seen estimates that if Google were run entirely by subscription. it would cost each of us about $150 per month.

        Looney Tunes. Apparently they didn't bother to subtract out the cost of delivering all that advertising content, which might well be the greater half of running Google as it presently exists.

        Furthermore, Google current cost structure is heavily anchored by their desire to own all the data and—soon—to have all the best machine intelligence. I suspect that the $150/month propose

    • But let me be in charge of it and able to selectively delete entries, reduce the resolution of the data, or easily erase it altogether.

      Alternatively, only turn on location services when you need your phone/ device to tell you your location. Which for most people isn't more than a few minutes a month. Otherwise ... well you know where you are.

    • It *is* about the technology. Google is first and foremost an engineering company. Advertising is a means to an end; they need money to fund the cool stuff, and they are particularly good at getting money through ads.
  • by retroworks ( 652802 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @06:43AM (#52346407) Homepage Journal
    I was thinking, I hope they are planning a date figure, so in the future we can see street maps by date and year or decade. In the future it would be interesting to visit not just a place but a year. In the same way that old maps have value because political lines have changed, I hope Google Maps is investing in keeping the older data as the lines change. It would be good to see what Florida was like before it was submerged in water, for example.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 19, 2016 @07:46AM (#52346575)

      All joking aside, the newest version of the Google Maps UI is fucking unusable.

      First of all, it's way slower than the "classic" Google Maps was. I zoom, and sit and wait for the goddamn images to load. The fuzzy placeholder images they show are more annoying than just showing no image at all!

      Second of all, the search panel is fucked. When I search for something it shows the panel on the left listing the results. The panel takes up 1/3rd of the screen, which is really fucking annoying. But let's say I find what I'm looking for, and so I click on the search result. The map moves to that location. Now that I found what I was looking for, I want to get rid of the search panel since it's so goddamn huge. My first instinct is to click on the large "X" next to the search input. That hides the search panel, but it also clears the search results and the markers on the map, which is really fucking annoying! It turns out you need to click the tiny little arrow button outside of the search panel to close the panel. It's some of the stupidest Millennial/Hipster design I've ever seen. Maybe those shitheads don't realize it, but an "X" icon means close, not clear! And eraser icon is what should be used to indicate an input can be cleared!

      Third or all, the goddamn street view dragging never works reliably for me. On my desktop it takes 3 or 4 drags before it finally starts showing the goddamn street view, and it doesn't work at all on my iPad! I should just be able to right-click or press-hold somewhere on the map, select a "Street View Here" menu item and it shows me the closest street view to that point! There shouldn't be any of this goddamn dragging nonsense that Millennial/Hipster designers used!

      I don't even bother with Google Maps any more. I just use OpenStreetMap most of the time.

      Google Maps used to have a really good, really usable UI. Then a bunch of Millennials/Hipsters must have had their way with it, because like every other piece of software that these people have touched (Firefox, GNOME 3, Windows 8/10, Chrome, Slashdot Beta) it became a fucking awful mess.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 )

        All joking aside, the newest version of the Google Maps UI is fucking unusable.

        Just as another example, once upon a time, I could map out routes in Google Maps the way I wanted to. I might want to make a side trip on the way to another destination, I'd just make waypoints. Now? I get two choices of directions. If neither go through where I'm trying to go, its TTC.

        Anyone that doubts it should DDGo "Google maps suck".

        You should be modded up to +5, AC.

        • by MarkRose ( 820682 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @09:32AM (#52346919) Homepage

          Click on the route and drag to make a new waypoint where you want.

          If you want to add another destination click on the + next to the departure time.

          I use both all the time.

          • Click on the route and drag to make a new waypoint where you want.

            If you want to add another destination click on the + next to the departure time.

            I use both all the time.

            I tried that - it did not work. I spent way too much time trying to create a trip to florida this winter with a stop off at a friend in Tennessee's place. The issue I had was confirmed. Coupled with th egoogle smartphone app, it was less than useless.

            Maybe it was fixed, maybe not. Do not care, do not use anymore.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Sad but true, this generation really screws up everything it touches.

      • Third or all, the goddamn street view dragging never works reliably for me. On my desktop it takes 3 or 4 drags before it finally starts showing the goddamn street view, and it doesn't work at all on my iPad! I should just be able to right-click or press-hold somewhere on the map, select a "Street View Here" menu item and it shows me the closest street view to that point!

        Yeah, I've been having trouble using the streetview UI recently, too.

      • by doom ( 14564 )
        My complaint is a little simpler: the UI keeps changing, and never works with my preferred browser settings. I continually need to move to a virgin browser profile just to figure out what it's supposed to be doing, and whatever improvements they're going after, it's never apparent to me at all. Yeah, for simple stuff I almost always just use openstreetmap.org. The search feature is fussier, but I can deal with that. For public transit directions transit311.org seems to work a little better (though that'
    • by DamonHD ( 794830 )

      You already can to that to some extent. When I look at streets in London I can often choose to go back and look at previous Street View images over several years:

      Eg looking at the end of Ely Place here in 2009:

      https://www.google.co.uk/maps/... [google.co.uk]

      Rgds

      Damon

  • Because if he is, he is a massive fuckup. Maps has become steadily less useful over the years, both the Android app and the website. The interfaces are both just pure garbage.

    I use maps regularly, but I gave up on using it for navigation/directions beyond point to point and just use my Garmin for multi-stop trips in spite of its crap interface.

    • Funny, I gave up on my Garmin for the exact same reason.
      • Funny, I gave up on my Garmin for the exact same reason.

        Using the Garmin is almost unbearably slow, but I can successfully enter multi-stop trips into it, whereas with google maps most of the time when I try that on the web it decides to shit the bed almost every time. Slow and poky is better than not working at all.

    • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @08:49AM (#52346773)

      Because if he is, he is a massive fuckup. Maps has become steadily less useful over the years, both the Android app and the website. The interfaces are both just pure garbage.

      I use maps regularly, but I gave up on using it for navigation/directions beyond point to point and just use my Garmin for multi-stop trips in spite of its crap interface.

      I agree. I sort of wonder if they eliminated all but the most obvious route was in response to the dumpkoffs that got lost or killed by trying weird directions and found themselves driving off cliffs when trying to drive their Camry on Jeep roads?

      We live in a world where people can sue for stupidity, like not knowing that alligators live in ponds in Florida, so why not?

      • I agree. I sort of wonder if they eliminated all but the most obvious route was in response to the dumpkoffs that got lost or killed by trying weird directions and found themselves driving off cliffs when trying to drive their Camry on Jeep roads?

        We live in a world where people can sue for stupidity, like not knowing that alligators live in ponds in Florida, so why not?

        Most likely they eliminated those secondary routes as the most obvious ones have been upgraded. That's been my experience so far. Google still takes me some weird and wonderful ways when I go to places that aren't so well known and are off the beaten track, but back in the day when travelling between major cities it would recommend side streets because they were faster. Well now with highway bypasses and extra lanes that's no longer the case.

        • I agree. I sort of wonder if they eliminated all but the most obvious route was in response to the dumpkoffs that got lost or killed by trying weird directions and found themselves driving off cliffs when trying to drive their Camry on Jeep roads?

          We live in a world where people can sue for stupidity, like not knowing that alligators live in ponds in Florida, so why not?

          Most likely they eliminated those secondary routes as the most obvious ones have been upgraded.

          I'd certainly like to have some control over my routing. NOt have some eliminated because of someone elses decision.

          • I'd certainly like to have some control over my routing. NOt have some eliminated because of someone elses decision.

            Note they are not eliminated, just no longer the fastest route and thus not presented as a first option. The longer your travel the less likely it is to present to you an option that saves you a minute here or there. Interesting I am finding it increasingly common that during a drive an alternate route is suggested. Actually I can't remember the last time that I took a trip longer than about an hour and I ended up using the route that was originally suggested when I started.

            Personally I like NOT having the

            • Personally I like NOT having the choice. For a long time I thought I was smarter than Google with my local knowledge of roads. That's nice, but in the end, It didn't work at all.

              Even when I split it up on the home computer and sent it to the phone. Google maps for my phone screwed it up.

    • I'm generally okay with what they've done with the interface.

      The cartography on the other hand has turned to absolute shit. Compare Google maps now to the version 5 years ago and you used to see a lot more useful information. More city names, more suburb names. Not everyone using maps knows the exact name of their destination, some people use the damn thing like a map and for that ironically enough Google maps is terrible.

  • Google maps is pretty good, I'll admit. But their driving directions, don't get me started!

    Why isn't there an "easy" routing option? Just yesterday maps sent me to an interstate exit going in the opposite direction with an immediate u-turn, instead of the normal, right-hand exit. Maybe the u-turn was a few seconds faster, but it's about 200% more dangerous, it's confusing, and just maddening beyond belief.

    Another time, maps took me off a paved road onto a gravel road, over a one-lane bridge almost axle-deep in mud next to a cattle yard, onto a dirt road, and then: back on to the same paved road again, a quarter-mile down the road! The routing algorithm had basically just cut out a bend in the road. It was so outrageous that I imagined Google engineers were actually trying to punk us -- hey, Larry, look, I can't believe that guy actually took the cow path!

    OK, don't be evil, I get that. But also, don't make your customers want to throttle your apps with their bare hands.

    • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @08:54AM (#52346787)

      Google maps is pretty good, I'll admit. But their driving directions, don't get me started!

      Why isn't there an "easy" routing option?

      There was at one time. You could enter waypoints, and map it out. Then they changed it in 2015. Somehow taking command of your own trip was a bad thing that had to be eliminated.

      • You can still do waypoints; I use them all the time. Just grab the route line anywhere and drag it to where you want to waypoint to be.

    • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @11:47AM (#52347521) Journal
      I don't think Google Maps is 'pretty good' at all, I think it's so super-bloated as to be close to unusable. I more or less have to go find something else to do for the time it sits there loading up and resolving everything on the map, and it doesn't matter what computer I'm on, it's still unbelievably slow. It didn't used to be this way, either, it used to be fairly quick. Even the so-called 'lite' version you can revert to is still so slow and and pokey that you want to pound the keyboard if you're in a hurry. And the driving directions? Very often laughably bad. In many case I'll write down my own with pen and paper rather than wade through the nonsense that Google Maps spits out. And routing? Maybe half the time it'll give you the best route. It also limits the number of 'added destinations' you can enter, which is infuriating if I'm trying to plan out a specific route for myself.
    • Blindy following directions are never a good idea. You should have some overview over the land you are travelling through.
      http://arstechnica.com/cars/20... [arstechnica.com]
  • Hey Ed . . . (Score:5, Insightful)

    by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @08:25AM (#52346683) Journal

    Your maps continue to get worse and worse. Why can't I rotate a map to orient it on North? Why does the sidebar continually pop out even after I close it? Why is it so difficult to drag the line of a route to a different route without it doubling back on itself?

    Hey Ed, how about taking care of the things which are important rather than worrying about shiny. All of the above are why paper maps are still superior in many ways to what you produce.

    • Why can't I rotate a map to orient it on North?

      Click the compass.

      Why does the sidebar continually pop out even after I close it?

      Your phone has issues

      Why is it so difficult to drag the line of a route to a different route without it doubling back on itself?

      Grab a key waypoint.

      Any other user errors I can help you with?

      • Any other user errors I can help you with?

        Yeah, is there any way, when I am focused on a location, to see the streetview of that place easily?
        For example, in this image, there's a red dot marking a location [imgur.com]. I want to see the street view of exactly that location. Is there a way I can do that?

        • Click in the street right in front of the address until a little red pointer is in the road, then it should show the street view picture in a little box on the lower left.

          • Oh thanks, that's not exactly perfect, but seems good enough.
            • If you click on the little picture it will open up the normal street view interface.
              It seems they replaced the old street view with advertising pictures, now you have to be in the street to get street view.

      • You have made the classic mistake of thinking there is only one way to access data. You must be either a developer or database admin.

        Everything I talked about occurs on a computer and none of what you suggested will work.

    • Why can't I rotate a map to orient it on North?

      Does the location that you're talking about have a unique solution for north. In the natural world, there are places where the direction of the magnetic field changes by 50deg of azimuth in 100m of ground travel. I would be unsurprised if you didn't get the same thing on steel-structured bridges, near power lines, etc.

      Personally, I start with either the Sun + clock, or stars when I'm trying to work out where north is. Works both sides of the equator, of course

  • I use (Score:5, Informative)

    by Max_W ( 812974 ) on Sunday June 19, 2016 @09:22AM (#52346887)
    OpenSreetMap.org on desktop, and Maps.me on smartphone, as it does not require internet connection.

    For viewing locations of Wikipedia articles on the map I use http://ausleuchtung.ch/geo_wik... [ausleuchtung.ch] . It works for different Wikipedia language versions.
    • The OsmAnd app allows you to download OpenStreetMap data ahead of time and use it offline.
      It was a lifesaver when I recently visited a third world country and my data plan stopped working.

    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      Maps.me still asked me to download LA area. :(

  • Please, just shoot the satellite imagery in the summer months in the middle of the day so the shadows aren't so awful. Oh, and can you make the tiles line up with reality instead of being shifted by more than a meter. That would be great, thanks.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      most of it is plain old aerial photography (i.e out of planes).
      b) A lot of it is done by the government.

    • by nava68 ( 2356090 )
      A few annotations:

      As some one pointed out most of the images are arial photographs of lower quality - where they use satellite images (res. >1m) they have no control over the time of flyover - that is determined by the flightpath of the commercial operators. Only military sentinels and some scientific platforms carry enough fuel (or have a very short life span) to adapt their flight paths to the customers need.

      Aligning images is non-trivial - you got minimal tilts which could be corrected and profession

  • The current Google Maps UI is, like most current UI redesign, a major step back when not using a touch device.
    I switched to Bing Maps because of it.

    • by doom ( 14564 )
      Are you *sure* it's an improvement when using a touch screen? I've tended to assume that that must be the idea, but when I actually talk to people who use, say, Android phones, they're often bemoaning the fact that the "native apps" never work right, and they'd really like to switch to the web interface, but many sites make that hard to do...
  • So, OpenStreetMap is a parody?

    How does he explain that?

    • Go for a walk around the Google campus in Mountain View. Look at Google Maps. Look at OpenStreetMap. Notice that OSM has better data. One of them is a parody, certainly. We're in the process of buying a house. It's shown on OSM, but Google Maps doesn't even have the road that it's on.
      • by q4Fry ( 1322209 )

        Is this because you added it to OSM yourself?

        • Nope, in either case. It turns out quite a lot of mapping geeks work for Google (and particularly on their maps product) and keep the OSM data up to date. In the case of the house that I'm buying, the road was already on the map but I did add a link to the developers' site plan in a note and someone else has now added the two roads behind it that are currently under construction.
    • The full quote is:

      All maps are imperfect," says McClendon. But Google’s rendering of the world is "as close to reality as we’ll be able to get for a long time."

      That hasn't stopped Google's open-source rival, OpenStreetMap, from taking a more democratic approach to mapping the planet. Whereas Google Maps is a proprietary stream of data resting on a range of private and public and crowdsourced inputs, OpenStreetMap is maintained by a community of volunteers using open data. Parsons is involved "on

      • by LegionX ( 691099 )

        Still not sure what he means.

        I also read the whole think without really understanding what he meant. I didn't know if the quote itself had been taken from another context.

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