New York Times: “Everyman Offers New Directions in Online Maps”

I’m two weeks late now blogging on the NYT article from Nov 16 on crowdsourcing maps, “Everyman Offers New Directions in Online Maps”.

Open Street Map has enabled users to make near-instant edits to map data, wiki-style, for some time now.  Lately, Google is beginning to follow a similar approach (though edits are reviewed, and take effect later).  Previously, Google Maps used data from commercial map data provider TeleAtlas, and before that, NAVTEQ.   No more.

From the NY Times article:

People have been contributing information to digital maps for some time, building displays of crime statistics or apartment rentals. Now they are creating and editing the underlying maps of streets, highways, rivers and coastlines.

“It is a huge shift,” said Michael F. Goodchild, a professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This is putting mapping where it should be, which is the hands of local people who know an area well.”

Last month Google dropped Tele Atlas data from its United States maps, choosing to rely instead on government data and other sources, including updates from users.

“They have coverage in areas that the big mapping guys don’t have,” said Mike Dobson, a mapping industry consultant who once worked at Rand McNally. “It has the opportunity to cause a lot of disruption in these industries.”

Why is this important for transit?  Two reasons:

  • Some agencies have complained of less-than-accurate in Google Maps for some regions.  Now, there are more effective avenues to address those concerns.
  • Google Maps users can now readily add information about infrastructure and features for non-driving transportation modes such as walking and biking.  I think/hope this development will make Google Maps an increasingly multi-modal map and trip planning platform in the future.