Google Maps: A (mis)Guided Tour of Olean

Since October and Google’s inclusion of the “report an error” link, I have been obsessively reporting errors in the general area of where I work. As I noted yesterday, Google has acknowledged and begun to repair these.

None the less, a few errors remain in Google’s geo data and the business listings so I decided to bring you a custom Map’s (mis)guided tour of downtown Olean. The view covers a roughly 55,000 sq. ft. area and the list is by no means exhaustive. If you are planning a trip in this direction, better give me a call.

Olean, a town of 15,000 where I was born, has lost a number of businesses every recession since the onset of the rust belt phenomena. However, it appears that more than the usual number have been misplaced if not lost during this recession. Thank god Jim’s Vacuum Repair is still around and I know how to get there. As much as I dislike dentists, I am glad that I can still find my dentist as well.

The (mis) Guided Map (Pin=Google’s Location, #=actual location)
(click to view larger):

misguidedtour

The Key (with the real scoop):

Actual Location – Maps Link Info Bubble Notes
A The centroid of the fair City of Olean, NY at the southerly end of the downtown area
1 pin1 My Dentist. Shown on East State Stree. He is actually located 4 blocks west on West State Street. Seems that East State Street is misnamed for some retail locations only.
2 pin2 My lawyer. I get a lot of speeding tickets so its a good thing she is in the next office over not 3000 feet away. (Just kidding about the tickets :) )
3 pin3 My office supply store. This is a weird one. The address shows the next town south of but is still located in this one. The pin shows it in north Olean and not on N Union St.
4 pin4 Not my bar but a well known watering hole none the less. It seems that Google shows two N Union Streets. One is actually called North Union St Extension. The Pulaski Club is on the real North Union St but is shown on the extension. I suppose there are enough other beer places that this will not cause any undue hardships.
5 pin5 It seemed fitting to include a chiropractor in these results. You will need one after going through the many gyrations following the wrong turns on this map. :)
6 pin6 The city skating rink were my son spends his Friday nights during the winter. The pin is actually located where the city office for the rec dept is, so while way off at least I can understand it.
7 pin7 My vacumm repair man, Jim. I went to high school with him and having a vacuum repair man is one of life’s treasures.Seems the same West State-East St bug that bit my dentist bit him.
8 pin8 Colonial Library eh? Now this one is very weird. Actually (according to Maps) its located in Richburg NY, a town 30 minutes east not near the Hampton Inn as shown.
9 The map shows 2 N. Union Streets. No wonder we can’t find the Pulawski Club
10 W. State, East Sate…what’s the diff? I think I’ll stop at 10.
Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps: A (mis)Guided Tour of Olean by

13 thoughts on “Google Maps: A (mis)Guided Tour of Olean”

  1. @Mike

    What is causing the listings to be misplaced? Is it a discrepancy in the actual latitude and longitude and what Google interprets it to be?

    I mean they are pretty close to the actual location but not 100% exact.

  2. All of the errors that I identified above are related to bad road geometry and other geospatial data.

    Either Google is buying a data set that has errors or they misinterpreted some of their StreetView data.

    For example the Pulaski Club is located at the upper end of N Union St. When Google came to town they drove down the North Union St Extension and onto the lower part of N Union never making it over to the upper end of the actual street.

    In the case of the dentist, it seems that the 300 Block of West State st has been misplaced…

    With bad business listings one can track the source of the bad data using Google’s main index or a few educated guesses. In the case of bad geospatial data, there just isn’t enough information about Google’s sources to understand where the errors come from.

    But most of these errors are not off by a few yards but several thousands.

    It demonstrates why getting the base layer of the Map is so critical to getting the rest of the listings right. It is the foundation and if it has cracks the whole house starts tilting.

  3. @ Mike

    You’re absolutely correct, they HAVE to have a correct base or listings will be misplaced all over.

    I’m sure Google had trouble navigating some cities in the United States, Olean being one of them. But on the other hand I am sure that Google has some cities with no errors in them… (grid-street farming towns) =)

    You don’t hear about them too often but I have been using geo.position, geo.placename, geo.region, and ICBM META tags on the majority of my local client’s sites.

    I am not saying that the search engines even use those tags, but it might help down the road to have your exact geo position in your meta.

    I have a feeling it will be a while before Google has worked out those kinks.

  4. @Kyle

    I would bet that in many a rural town, even the farm towns in the Midwest that Google has passed through, you will find similar geocoding errors. Google just hit the main streets in most of rural America and then triangulated that with other data sources.

    Either the “other” data sources that have the bad information or their OCR on their StreetView Data gave them bad results. Regardless, I think the problem is systemic not just here.

    The reality though is that it takes someone looking at Maps a lot to catalog and index these many errors….usually you go one place and if its wrong you write it off, if it happens a second time you think it a conspiracy….when it happens the third time, its a revolution and you either stop using Google or you switch products…

    It is amazing to me given the maginitude of their switching of the underlying data, how few complaints you see in the forums…

  5. Mike,
    Very cool that you’re a born-and-bred Olean person and know the town like the back of your hand. I hope your flurry of error reporting will lead to a more correct presentation of the place you live in Maps. I’m curious…you mention bad geometry. How so? I’d like to hear more about that.
    Miriam

  6. @Miriam

    In the end, Maps needs to be measured not in terms of relevance but in terms of ground truth.

    I am hoping by showing the range of these problems that it will
    1)alert Google to the problems so that they can track the source and 2)encourage more people to take a look and see what Google has so that the problem can be fixed for all small burgs, here, in California and wherever else the technology is used.

    I am by no means an expert on the collection and collation of the geospatial data so take what I say with a huge grain of salt… (see Mike Dobson’s blog for that…

    In the case of the Streetview data, the car drives along, taking photos, tagging them with GPS. The photos are OCR for street names etc, matched against satelite images and other data sources to create the road geometry. If they think that they are on North Union St when in reality they are on the North Union St Extension then the data will be matched against the wrong road….the road geometry will be in error and the business placed at the wrong location. It appears that with Olean there are multiple interacting errors…again I am not the guy to diagnose them. (But I sure have fun reporting them :) )

    @David

    My watering hole is home with my wife, playing a mean game of scrabble over a beer or glass of wine with some home cooked food…. second choice would be a similar scenario but with friends… As you probably have surmised I make it to the bars rarely if ever. :)

  7. The address of heavensscentflowers.com is not entered right. It is listed as heavenscent with one s instead of the double s. As a result people are ending up on the wrong website.

  8. We don’t seem to have the “Report a problem” link in Ireland. When I read about it I was pretty excited that I could get a few problems fixed, only to be disappointed that I couldn’t find the link. Having read this it now seems Google are slow at best to address the reported errors and ignoring the reports at worst. I guess I’ll just have to stick to being ignored in the forum for now :-)

  9. @rich

    sorry to get hopes up. Report a problem on Maps is a featue only available in the US at the moment where google creates their own geospatial data.

    You will see in Ireland only when they do the same. Their contract with teleatlas has 3 or so years left on it so maybe some time before then

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