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Understanding Google My Business & Local Search

Google Maps + TeleAtlas + TomTom = Powerful map update strategy

Google Maps needs accurate underlying maps data to be successful. It needs the data to not only provide a positive user experience but to correctly deliver ads and a safe mapping environment. The change to TeleAtlas in September appeared to many to be a step backwards in map quality, partiuclarly in the U.S. But the nexus of Google Maps, TeletAtlas and Tom-Tom, TeleAtlas’s owner creates an alliance that is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the benefit of user generated content (UGC) to create a better mapping product.

Unlike business listing data where the motivations for gaming the system are high, user generated map data has the potential to create better, more accurate maps more quickly. A device like the Tom-Tom navigation devices can gather incredibly accurate GPS paths that when combined with the user feedback of Tom-Tom and Google Maps users and matched against satellite imagery can allow TeleAtlas to make more maps changes in less time, less expensively than sending out cars and drivers. This capability will grow, going forward, with the introduction of navigation devices that offer a two way connection back to TeleAtlas and TomTom.

The volume of data, the nature of the data and the timeliness of the data could mean that Map errors in Google could be updated in a 1 to 4 month time frame going forward, rather than the traditional 6-9 months they have taken in the past.

TeleAtlas recently released their first quarterly update that integrates TomTom UGC since they were aquired by TomTom in early June and contains significant improvements from community data .

At the end of last month, TeleAtlas provided a Webcast from Rik Kemmik VP of Product Management with a number of details about how community input changes the way maps are made.

Here are my notes of the conference (which is available as a podcast here)..

Announcement: first release of their Multinet digital map data base that contains significant improvements from community data.

The update includes 50000 map edits from community data to the Maps. Actually shipping this map to all customers throughout the world including Google Maps & Google Earth, Blackberry, Tom-Tom, BMW, etc. These have occurred in only 4 months since the acquisition.

The is the first time that TeleAtlas has applied community input to update maps data. Traditionally they have used data from many sources as well as drive the roads and verify changes. Compile and drive strategy is the same but this community data is a significant add on to that strategy.

All map data correction sources viewed from 3 Angles.
•Data quantity- more there is the more valuable the source
•How Accessible and easy to use. Some sources are still paper based and are inefficient to use.
•Data freshness & relevance- some is more relevant than other. Major bridge closing is more critical than a municipal boundary change.

Community data is high on all three of these measures. Lots of data. Lots of data coming from tom-tom. Two types of data:
active- user feedback
passive- GPS measurements

Both are coming in huge volume
4 million reports on active report side
Measurements from GPS is 4x length of road network in Europe and 1 length in NA every day. High on volume, highly accessible, already in digital format is easy to use and apply to database. Highly relevant. Its data from active users of Maps for navigation and relevant to their navigation experience. Very up to date. Time lag is a matter of few weeks, so the data is very fresh and highly relevant.

This data is a a special, highly valuable kind of data that allows them to make significant improvements to maps.

How do you validate this community input? Can we trust the community to give a more accurate map compared to traditional authoritative sources?

Important for TeleAtlas to maintain quality control checks on data. Just using a different source to do those validations on.

How do they use it? Example is direction of traffic flow on a given road. Using community data, they can detect areas where direction of traffic flow is different than what is in the map…using Mapshare reports they can see users commenting on discrepancies. If they have enough reports, they use the GPS measurement, the trace data from the devices and the comments that identifies the difference between reality and the map data. Only when the evidence is overwhelming and passes all quality controls and can be cross verified with aerial data, will they make a Map edit.

Community input is more of compliment than a replacement or perhaps a trigger to make changes. It is great to precipitate a change action which they can easily detect differences and change. Compliment to existing process and sources.

Community data allows them to do things they couldn’t do before ie slope data, gradient data…every measurement includes an altitude measurement of every point in road network. They have great information about every point on the road network. The Can now derive gradient and height measurement for whole road network. This was not possible before.

This community is opt in?

Correct, careful to make it clear to users that it data collection is an opt in process. Users are very willing to share their information because they see the benefits to them and others. It improves their user experience the experience of others using the Map. Users respond in great numbers.

How does someone join this community? Do they have to be a Tom Tom user or are there other ways?

Tom-Tom users have software on their desktop called Mapshare. TeleAtlas has a map portal, called MapInsight to allow any consumer to report via any map that they are using like Google Maps or Earth or on their Blackberry. They also have direct reporting via their partners to have direct customer feedback.

Where is the Map community located? Where does input come from?

Feedback from many users using many different applications. Most are in Western Europe and North America where most of the Tom-tom and Map users are. Community is very large and very geographically dispersed, urban and rural. They are even driving in areas where they don’t yet have coverage so they are working on ways of creating maps in those areas.

If this community grows to millions of users how are they going to handle this influx of users and information? Will that present challenges ho

The more data tele receives the quicker they can integrate it into the map. If they only receive one users input they can not be sure but if 20 users send it in, they have lots and lots of GPS measurements they can be confident that the change needs to take place.

Will integration of data be more automated in the future?

The data is so structured they know what it looks like, they have control over what measurements are made and how they come into the data center. They have millions miles of roads and on a daily basis they are making thousands and thousands of edits. Some of the changes need have to be manually. The more they can automate the more quickly they can bring in changes into the database. The community data is a cornerstone of that process.

What is next and Where are you taking the TeleAtlas community?

This is just the beginning. Just been four months that TeleAtlas was acquired by Tom Tom and has had access to this data. In that short period of time they were able to build processes and write algorithms to ingest the data and take advantage of this data. Working on their next release of their map for early 2009 we will be editing different things in the database. In this first release they are changing blocked roads, one way roads as well as street names are the initial attributes they edited in this fall 2008 release. In 2009 they will be absolutely doing more attributes. Its early to talk about which attributes but it will be significant they will add to the list. More edits of the same type they are doing now. They will do more efficiently and of course there is more data coming and there is more they can do with it. More data, more users and edits to more countries than they can do today.

Very excited about the future of connected devices. At the moment users will connect once every few days. Increasingly, Tom-tom and other suppliers , are launching 2 way connected devices that will be able to send data in real time to them. The fresher the data the more exciting. Allowing more exciting things they can do with it. They can spot temporary changes in the road network like slowing traffic or road closings. This real time data is very exciting and they are looking how to leverage into the TeleAtlas Map building process.

I will be able to get an up to the minute map that includes traffic information + other dynamic content and a map that is completely fresh.

Two way connectedness enables two things real time content like traffic and road closures and goes the other way. Data can be retrieved off the device in real time and things can be done with it.


If you are interested in a great analysis of the potential winners in utilizing user generated content in the mapping world read this great series of posts by M Dobson written earlier this year:
UGC, Map Updating and Market Segmentation
Beneficiaries of UGC in Map and Location Updating
More Winners In UGC and Geospatial
UCG and Map Updating – More Details