Following the outcry about the poor quality of the new Apple mapping application that came out with the iPhone 5, let’s investigate how the best electronic maps around have been created.
No surprises, there’s a lot of human work, sweat and crowd-sourcing behind them. This excellent paper on “How Google Builds its Maps and What It Means for the Future of Everything” describes how an army of people (most of it probably in India) have reviewed all the grueling details of the Google map database, helped lately by Google Street View cars to achieve the appropriate accuracy.
But Google Maps also allow users to give their input to correct inaccuracies (even wondered at the small clickable “Report a Problem” at the bottom right that allows you to give input directly to Google?). So, a significant additional accuracy is given by crowd-sourcing.
Digital maps aggregate an incredible amount of geographical information on several layers, giving insights into our world in a way that had never been possible before – and thus changing our view of it. Even if Google maps was only created in 2005 (!), taking into account the effort that has gone into it, you can’t just improvise an alternate version. Catch-up of the current mapping data will take significant amount of effort. That effort will be done by competitors because this data is so strategic commercially, but only those will be successful that have significant capability to mobilize people to code the data – and to mobilize the crowd to ensure constant accuracy even in case of changes. Google has an advance over everybody else, and this huge investment they made will be one key to their future success.