27 June 2005

I get lost

Twice I have printed out directions from Google Maps, and twice it has gotten me off track. I think Google must be using an inferior database of roads to generate their directions.

On the way to Salem, my printed directions omitted the fact that I-95 North is the same road as Mass. Rte. 128 for several miles; completely failed to mention that when they diverge, you want to take the left fork and stay on 128; and got the exit number for Peabody wrong.

It's a shame, because Google Maps is pretty good otherwise. Its user interface puts it way ahead of its competitors.

But all these sites have a long way to go. For example, none of the free map sites show highway exit numbers on their maps. And none show public transit lines. Or pay parking lots. Driving directions could also be improved dramatically without a great deal of technical effort. The most obvious thing is landmarks. Good directions periodically reassure the traveler that he's on the right path. "You'll pass Boston Common on your left." Or, "Pass through Joe Bloggs Tunnel." Or, "Turn right on Walnut St. at a large stone church."

The other thing that sent me astray this weekend was the sign on I-93 South (into Boston) that says, "Commuter lane - no exits until Storrow Drive". Actually, the Storrow Drive exit is one of the ones bypassed. I think this has been the case ever since the new bridge opened almost a year ago. It's crazy that the sign hasn't been changed.

4 comments:

paul said...

Are you a dope? do you realy need directions to get to Mass if you live in NH? the roads are clearly labled. The internet tools are designed to HELP you. They do a great job fo free. If you are geeting lost invest a couple hundred bucks in a nav system and it will do exactly what you are asking for.

jto said...

Are you a dope? do you realy need directions to get to Mass if you live in NH?

It's true. I haven't memorized every street in Boston. I am a dope.

the roads are clearly labled.

You obviously don't live up here. :)

Anonymous said...

Quite recently, I noticed that Google added in some extra data to their map layer--it's something I'd expect from Google Earth, not Google Maps, but it's in anyways.

Exit numbers are now displayed for highways and mass-transit (where available) stops are now displayed.
Unfortunately, I haven't seen the pay parking lots feature integrated yet, though there's likely a Google Earth layer for that which you can download.

As for effortless dramatic improvement for driving directions, you should understand how different every city is. Some people don't want landmarks, figuring it just wastes ink and distracts them from reading the directions. The problem with this is that Google gets all of its data from other companies. In order to say "There's a McDonald's on your left", Google Maps would need to find the address of all the McD's, figure out if there are any on the road that you're driving on--which there aren't--so then it checks for Starbucks--there are none, and finally, it discovers that there are 20 Burger Kings within the area that you're searching for, one of which you will pass as you're driving. Then Google Maps needs to figure out if it's visible from the road or not--there's currently no way for Google to calculate that. Then Google Maps can plug in that address and figure out if it's on the left or right side... Finally, it can write that in the Map directions. Repeat this process for however many landmarks you want (say 1 landmark per turn). Yes, this would be a great feature, especially for those who are landmark-oriented. And I understand how feedback along your route would be nice so that you know you're on the right road. But this can't be effortlessly created.

Wanting better quality directions requires directions from a human. Google simply gives you the route it finds takes the shortest amount of time--everything done by a computer. We've also seen with the new Traffic layer that Google is attempting to find faster conditional routes. Google doesn't have the resources to send an employee on ever road in America and figure out, out of all permutations of getting from Point A to Point B within a city, which one is most efficient--and then change that depending on an hourly basis for traffic levels during rush hour and road closures due to accidents or weather or construction.

There's a lot of competition today to see who has the best map service. Google and Yahoo, of course. MapQuest, Ask.com, and many others. They're all competing, and they all want to have more features that are better implemented than their competitors. If what you are asking for is as easy as you make it sound, then why haven't these companies done that? Because it's hard. It all has to be dynamically coded on a computer. And that takes some time to develop. I bet there's some grandparents out there who would be mad at you right now. "Back in our days, we knew our way around and asked for directions from town to town." Then later, the Thomas Guide was created, which allowed people to easily pick a route and navigate their way around. And now you're complaining when a computer will pick a route for you that you can't get from point A to point B, and you want to know every step of the way where the nearest Starbucks is. An in-car GPS device might be for you.

Oh, Google has made some recent purchases of companies to make on-the-road directions a bit easier. So maybe then you'll be able to stop your whining.

Anonymous said...

Quite recently, I noticed that Google added in some extra data to their map layer--it's something I'd expect from Google Earth, not Google Maps, but it's in anyways.

Exit numbers are now displayed for highways and mass-transit (where available) stops are now displayed.
Unfortunately, I haven't seen the pay parking lots feature integrated yet, though there's likely a Google Earth layer for that which you can download.

As for effortless dramatic improvement for driving directions, you should understand how different every city is. Some people don't want landmarks, figuring it just wastes ink and distracts them from reading the directions. The problem with this is that Google gets all of its data from other companies. In order to say "There's a McDonald's on your left", Google Maps would need to find the address of all the McD's, figure out if there are any on the road that you're driving on--which there aren't--so then it checks for Starbucks--there are none, and finally, it discovers that there are 20 Burger Kings within the area that you're searching for, one of which you will pass as you're driving. Then Google Maps needs to figure out if it's visible from the road or not--there's currently no way for Google to calculate that. Then Google Maps can plug in that address and figure out if it's on the left or right side... Finally, it can write that in the Map directions. Repeat this process for however many landmarks you want (say 1 landmark per turn). Yes, this would be a great feature, especially for those who are landmark-oriented. And I understand how feedback along your route would be nice so that you know you're on the right road. But this can't be effortlessly created.

Wanting better quality directions requires directions from a human. Google simply gives you the route it finds takes the shortest amount of time--everything done by a computer. We've also seen with the new Traffic layer that Google is attempting to find faster conditional routes. Google doesn't have the resources to send an employee on ever road in America and figure out, out of all permutations of getting from Point A to Point B within a city, which one is most efficient--and then change that depending on an hourly basis for traffic levels during rush hour and road closures due to accidents or weather or construction.

There's a lot of competition today to see who has the best map service. Google and Yahoo, of course. MapQuest, Ask.com, and many others. They're all competing, and they all want to have more features that are better implemented than their competitors. If what you are asking for is as easy as you make it sound, then why haven't these companies done that? Because it's hard. It all has to be dynamically coded on a computer. And that takes some time to develop. I bet there's some grandparents out there who would be mad at you right now. "Back in our days, we knew our way around and asked for directions from town to town." Then later, the Thomas Guide was created, which allowed people to easily pick a route and navigate their way around. And now you're complaining when a computer will pick a route for you that you can't get from point A to point B, and you want to know every step of the way where the nearest Starbucks is. An in-car GPS device might be for you.

Oh, Google has made some recent purchases of companies to make on-the-road directions a bit easier. So maybe then you'll be able to stop your whining.