Google: King of the cartographers

Google: King of the cartographers

There are only a few entities in the world’s history known for pioneering maps: In 250 BC, there was Eratosthene. Then in 150 AD there was Ptolemy with his Geographia. And in 1569, Gerardus Mercator came up with the Mercator projection, which gave us the maps we are very used to seeing today.

Now we have Google. And we have to ask ourselves: Will Google Maps do what Google web search does and outpace the competition to a laughable point?

I had a good chuckle reading yesterday’s article about the Australian police advising people to stop using Apple’s iOS 6 maps app because it is dangerously inaccurate.

Not to mention, who with an Android phone does not love Google’s navigation system and its turn-by-turn instructions? It’s the only major system I’ve ever used that has you report back if you did not find the target destination.

Already, Google has revolutionised Street View, a feature that lets you drop a virtual person right on to the streets and have a look around. I’ve done this in areas of London I visit often to see if anything has changed. I also commonly drop into Street View when navigating an unfamiliar area. I “walk around” on the computer to acquaint myself with the surroundings. This concept should be awarded a Nobel Prize or something. Google has also pushed Street View into many buildings and famous arenas.

Now Google has apparently devised a genius way of using the public to create a wealth of deeper information and a better photographic database. Its latest stealth effort is Ingress, a location-based augmented reality game in which users seek information about something called “exotic matter.” They must work to uncover its whereabouts and fight some evil forces as part of a nebulous resistance. In fact, the game, which was preceded by Field Trip, is just a way to get you to roam around your town, further enhancing the Google mapping software.

Yes, as you play the game, which includes taking pictures of landmarks, your findings get fed back into the great Google mapping database. In other words, the players are voluntarily working for Google to fine-tune Google Maps. This is the epitome of gamification. The process works so well that eventually there will be millions of people unwittingly feeding the Google dominance machine.

The joke is that as a corporate project, Google Maps is only eight years old, started with the acquisition of Where 2 Technologies in 2004. It quickly blossomed into the market leader when Google began to add appealing features and never stopped. You have to assume that if this dominance could be achieved in just eight years, any company with good resources (ahem, Microsoft or Apple) could manage to compete with more gusto.

At the moment, the best bet as a serious competitor is Waze, an open source navigator that incorporates more user interaction. Users can learn about police speed traps in real time. It boasts “real time help from other drivers.” The app hit 10 per cent market share following the Apple Maps flop, but it is merely a sensible and useful overlay on the deeper mapping functions.

As far as revolutionary navigation systems are concerned, Google is king.

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