Google Maps: Geo Data Quality & Time to Fix

Update 7:30 PM 3/29: Reader Penguinopus reports that Google has fixed the mapping error that was directing folks to drive down an unfinished section of the Intercounty Connector in Maryland. Time to fix ~ 102 hours. (And that was over a weekend).

The Baltimore Sun reported on Friday, March 25th around noon that Google Maps is erroneously showing the complete Intercounty Connector between I-95 and Gaithershburg Md as being open. Apparently Gogle driving directions are directing drivers along a 12 mile stretch between I-95 and Georgia Ave that “is largely a muddy track where bulldozers are still doing what bulldozers do”.

This particular case is interesting to me for several reasons.

It is a high profile error in a very densely populated area of the US that has lots of road traffic. The Maps error has been picked up by the Washington Post and the regional NBC affiliate as well as the Baltimore Sun. Coverage of the issue has been persistent with the Baltimore Sun following up on their original reporting on 3/27 noting that 48 hours after reporting the problem to Google the problem is still in Maps.

Clearly, the reporter, Michael Dress of the Sun, thinks that Google should be able to fix the problem in a 2 day timeframe and is dismayed that it remains unrepaired. It is a reasonable expectation to think that a critical mapping error be fixed in 2 day timeframe. Whether Google can or will is another question. Typically they take 30-60 days to act on these corrections.  One of the realities of privatization of essential public services like this is that without strong and enforced regulations, the decisions like these are dictated by profit and not the needs of people. Should a private company that is providing a product for free be held to a higher standard when their product affects public safety in the public realm?

Secondly this story has already achieved a fairly high level of visibility by virtue of being covered in media sources that are very high profile and effectively national in scope. Google, in the past, has held that these types of public exposure have little impact on their willingness and speed to affect changes. Most in the SEO industry have seen obvious examples of “hand jobs” that seems to bely that. This will be an interesting case to test whether Google actually does intervene in these types of cases.

Thirdly and a bigger question is whether the overall quality of the underlying Maps data has improved over the past 12 months. Google stopped using TeleAtlas and started using their own geo data in October of 2009. They implemented a system of end user geo error reporting at the same. In May of last year, Google hired 300 temp workers in the Maps arena to improve the quality. As recently as last September, this reporting system was behind Google’s stated commitment of fixing geo errors in 30 days and there still was some reporting of whole towns going missing.

However since that time, complaints seemed to have dropped. While there have been some problematic and visible examples of large scale geographic map errors, for the most part the quality of the underlying map data seems to have generally improved. This seems to be true in both urban areas and rural areas as well.

Certainly the number of high level complaints on my radar has decreased. It was a common issue that affected visibility of business listings but reports in the Places forum of the problem have declined. Not a perfect proxy of reality but one that should reflect the general direction of the quality of the underlying data as businesses have a very high vested interest in being found and are thus motivated to report the problem. In my anectdotal test of Google’s mapping errors in my home town, most have been fixed.

It has been reported that Google receives over 10,000 corrections an hour to their maps. That’s a million corrections received every 4 days and over 87 million some odd changes every year. Do you think that they actually improved the underlying quality to a level appropriate for business listing accuracy?

Would love to hear your opinions on whether you think that Google has improved the quality of the underlying geo-data over the past year.

Does Google do hand fixes on visible data issues? Will they on this one?

Is the current level of Maps data quality good enough for business use?

Is it good enough for public safety?

Should Goolge be held to a higher standard as a result?

Does that require regulation or self monitoring?

Please consider leaving a comment as your input will help me (& everyone else) better understand and learn about local.
Google Maps: Geo Data Quality & Time to Fix by

11 thoughts on “Google Maps: Geo Data Quality & Time to Fix”

  1. Geez! I love me some Google, but their maps and places products are just a big bucket of disaster. It does seem like they’re really trying, but you’d think that for a company as big and competent as Google, they’d have this all figured out by now.

  2. @Adam
    Mapping the world is no simple task. Doing so with little human intervention is even more difficult. Google is attempting to “go where no man has gone before” in assembling their Maps via computer, Streetview data, third party data & UGC. From where I sit, they have done an incredible job of it.

    That being said, it doesn’t necessarily make the product fit for daily use by the public particularly when it comes to safety. Is it good enough? What is good enough? Who should be held responsible? The user? Google? How long should it take to fix? Should we as a concerned citizenry be concerned? And if so, should the government regulate or should Google just improve their private practices to some standard?

  3. I’m from that area, Mike. Per the Baltimore Sun both Yahoo and Google have it currently wrong. I just checked in google and its still wrong.

    It is a high trafficked route. Once the InterCounty Connector is finished it will divert an enormous amount of traffic from a dense population and business sector in Montgomery County to I-95 North to Baltimore and many points North.

    A major mistake in my book. As with so many mistakes in Google, many many people will migrate to their directions. One commentator in the Baltimore Sun article already said they were misdirected…and its only been since Saturday.

    The sooner they correct it the better. Somebody, somewhere with some clout should be leaning on Google.

    I’d set the clock again to see how long it takes before Google corrects this big snag

  4. Mike: Just to quantify the size of the issue: There are probably abt 1/2 million residents in Northern Montgomery County and abt 30 million square feet of office space/ with additional hotels and serious destination points in that region including major federal govt. health and regulatory offices.

    That is damn big. It gets a lot of traffic. There will be a lot of mistakes as a result of this information foul up.

    Remember that clock you had ticking quantifying the amount of time it took for Google to respond to a question? I’d set it again. :D

  5. Checked into it again this morning with directions from Baltimore. Google maps again took me to a non/intersection with mud and an unopened road.

    Turn the clock on, Mike. Start the ticking. How long will it take Google to fix this problem. Its already over 3 days/ 72 hours since reported by the Baltimore Sun.

  6. Thanks, penquinopus:

    The corrected directions take one off the not finished Intercounty Connector, seriously lengthen the trip, put people on the incredibly crowded 495 Beltway around DC and up North on Rte 270 from its intersection with the Beltway. Damn longer and subject to tremendous traffic…..but damn accurate.

    IMHO, the 4 day turnaround…considering that 2 of the days were a weekend was a positive response by Google.

  7. BTW: Didn’t check originally but checked today. yahoo has accurate directions. Per the report it stated that Yahoo directions were also originally inaccurate

  8. @Earl

    It was a reasonable turn around. Not sure how fast they would work if they lost your town :)

    Yahoo, Bing & Mapquest all use Navteq. One assumes if one is right the others would be too.

  9. Mike: Not sure about the impact of Google losing Washington DC. In the real world, though, if it was lost, the biggest impact would be an incredible reduction of political hot air.

    Global warming would be drastically reduced. You would be X-country skiing into late May.

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