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November 3, 2009 / Steven Pousty

Did they drop TeleAtlas too early

So I want to follow up on the nuclear bomb dropped on the geospatial industry – but instead I want to focus on what James pointed out about spatial accuracy. I think Goog made the switch to their own data too soon. My wife has used Google religiously for getting driving directions for a couple of years now and always been happy with it.  In the past week it has gotten her lost 4 times – she has now switched to MapQuest or Bing.  I tried to use it for directions here in the bay area and it took me into the East Bay to get to somewhere on the Peninsula. I went straight back to TeleNav (ATT Navigator) and had no problems.  Google’s routing data sucks right now and there are no two ways about it.  This is not due to bad algorithms since they used to work great on TeleAtlas (TA) data.

I know there would have been huge $ implications for using TA data for turn by turn navigation routing (they charge a lot more for that “use case”) but Google has a bazillion dollars. So I think there are two reasons why they did it.

1. They think they are smarter than everyone else and their fairy dust network would get them up to speed fast enough.

2. Marc Prioleau had the idea that perhaps TA got wind of what was going down and gave them an ultimatum. Sign a contract or we will never let you do turn by turn.

If it was number one then I think they switched too early.

Getting directions wrong has a lot more serious consequences than giving me the wrong search results. I only need once or twice and I am switching providers. I don’t care if it is free – directions are either right or wrong.

If I am lucky, wrong wastes my time, if I am not so lucky it can put me in danger.  Yeah yeah, say all you want about you get what you pay for – but that is not a way to keep users on your service.There are a bunch of other “free services” out there that I could use but I don’t because they are worthless.  Google dominated in search because it gave the best results and then inertia set in. They may not be so lucky here – wrong driving directions are useless.

I hope those fairies are working overtime correcting their street network…

Btw, poor TeleNav – guess they picked a bad time to stop being a privately owned firm.



Leave a Comment
  1. Yep / Nov 3 2009 6:55 pm

    Yep, right on. If Microsoft or Yahoo did this they would be getting lambasted over data quality… Why is google in general getting a free pass. I tried to use google maps to get to my local fedex today and they geocoded it to the wrong street, apparently there are 2 broadway’s in my town.

    This may in fact turn our quite well for TA and Navteq if they don’t make too much fun of google’s many flawed calculations on this one.

  2. Gurduloo / Nov 3 2009 7:21 pm

    I think it all depends on how well Google can incorporate user submitted corrections. Navteq and TeleAtlas have nice webforms for submitting corrections, but in my experience they don’t actually make the corrections. Google has the same thing, but maybe they’ll have better implementation. Maybe.

  3. Steven Citron-Pousty / Nov 3 2009 10:56 pm

    My feeling is that user submitted corrections aren’t going to really cut it. Even if they make the map look more correct I doubt most users are going to get the important speeds or turn directions or other important routing attributes. And even in they did that would still be a lot of map monkeys to go through all the user submitted corrections and check them and apply them.

    It will work in the long run but the question is how long does it take to get from the short run to the long run and what happens to user numbers during that time.

  4. matt / Nov 4 2009 7:19 am

    Something tells me Google isn’t banking on their streetviewer cars and user submissions to be the only source of improvements. With their mobile navigation app reporting speed data back to them, I can’t imagine they aren’t collecting and incorporating other info.

  5. gywright / Nov 4 2009 8:24 am

    Routing has always had problems — from any data source. Whiners have enjoyed finding cases that don’t work perfectly since the beginning. Google is providing a free service and it’s a pretty good service. With a commitment to improve the data and track record of quickly changing and improving where needed, I have much more trust in Google having a better routing solution in 2 years than any other company.

  6. Fred / Nov 4 2009 12:15 pm

    I submitted a change within days of the release and they appear to have fixed it. Although they hadn’t a week after I submitted it. It was a small issue–a right turn isn’t legal onto my street even though it’s a two-way street. It was correct before the switch.

    But they still send people into the woods (literally) in some place. Castaic Recreational Area is an example. Search for “Castaic Lake State Rec Area” and the two pins shown are not where most people want to go. You then ask for all the results and B looks the best, but it takes you into a neighborhood of homes, not the recreation area. None of the 47 choices get you to the large picnic and swimming area, nor the nearby boat launch on the west side of the lakes.

    We used Google Maps for directions to an event and at least one person spent an hour on backroads. I had posted written directions, but people trust(ed) Google.

    • Paul Johnson / Nov 4 2009 7:51 pm

      Fred, you could have looked up the geocoordinates and looked it up that way. It’s not like Wikipedia entries about places don’t have these on them.

      • Fred / Nov 4 2009 9:54 pm

        I tried that. I had surveyed the area using a GPS and tried plugging in the coordinates to where I wanted to be and kept changing the location. I plugged in the coordinates, (34.510332, -118.615483), but when I created the link, it showed somewhere further north which would be confusing to people who hadn’t been there. I think Google got confused when I originally asked for Castaic then changed to coordinates. I was doing this about six weeks ago, so don’t remember all the details.,-118.612175&sspn=0.066691,0.058365&ll=34.496795,-118.625393&spn=0.066706,0.058365&t=h&z=14 brings up a link to Castaic Rec Area which takes you way to the NE of the location. (Although in my current experiments it took me to Grasshopper Rd once which is fine). I used a different browser to try to avoid cache issues.

    • TechnologyMadness / Nov 12 2009 11:05 am

      it seems MapQuest is able to find it the way you wanted. See here — see 4th and 8th POI in result

  7. Paul Johnson / Nov 4 2009 7:49 pm

    I have to wonder why they went with their own data set, which is known to be of low quality, and of dubious source (as several copyright threads on Google Map Maker forums can attest), especially when they could have licenced OpenStreetMap at no fee at all and gotten far better results.

    Oh well. works with OSM…

  8. Terry / Nov 5 2009 8:16 am

    Just read a interesting article on the Droid which hits upon this ( The most pertinent point: “occasionally, the directions were plain wrong. But such things happen with the best GPS systems, and Google’s a company full of fast learners.”

    I think this opinion is probably pretty indicative of the average person’s (read: non- Map Dork’s) feelings about the accuracy of Google’s directions.

  9. Ben / Nov 14 2009 3:24 pm

    I think the reason why Google is getting a “free pass” on this is because everything else about it rocks. Street view, clickable points of interest, Wikipedia links, transit, etc.

    To a casual user these features end up being more important than data quality. To those who have an interest in maps and geography, it is disheartening to see all these fantastic features combined with subpar data and routing.


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