Google Maps Should Push The Wikipedia Analogy Further

from the peer-production dept

Google comes out with a seemingly unending stream of little enhancements to its stable of excellent online properties. One of the more exciting additions to come along in a while is the fact that users of Google Maps will now be able to move the markers on Google Maps. So if you search for your house and find it points to a point far down your street, you just click "Move Marker," drag the marker to the correct location, and hopefully save future visitors difficulties. A lot of people have pointed out the parallels to Wikipedia, but it seems to me there's a lot of unrealized potential to apply the lessons of Wikipedia to improving Google Maps. For starters, Google Maps is missing a lot of information. For example, there's a sushi restaurant on my block, but a search for "sushi" or "restaurant" won't bring it up. I should be able to click "add marker," enter the relevant information, and drop a pin in the appropriate place. Similarly, I should be able to add tags to existing markers; right now, if I search for "restaurant," a lot of restaurants near me don't show up, even though they're in the database. I should be able to add a "restaurant" tag to existing markers. I should also be able to add other types of tags to the map to mark road construction, historical sites, and other points of interest. And Google might even want to allow users to edit the information in existing markers, which is often incomplete or out of date.

Wouldn't that lead to chaos? Obviously, Google would have to design the editing feature with appropriate safeguards. But Wikipedia has demonstrated that decentralized information editing works better than almost anyone would have expected, provided that users are given the right tools. One absolutely crucial tool would be a "watch this area" function analogous to Wikipedia's watchlist feature. That would allow me to, for example, monitor all changes that are made within three blocks of my house so I can quickly correct vandalism. To cut down on spam, Google might institute a waiting period so that new information wouldn't show up in global searches until it had been in the database for a week, or until it had been confirmed by a certain number of users. One thing they'd have to be especially careful about is not revealing private information; presumably they'd want a strict rule against adding names to the addresses of private residences.
The potential upsides would be enormous. Google Maps is an excellent tool, but the information available on it is still relatively paltry. Not all businesses are listed, and not all relevant information is included in listings that do exist. It would take a tiny fraction of a city's population to correct this. I've already moved half a dozen markers of restaurants near me. I would be happy to add markers for my favorite restaurants that aren't listed yet. The occasional errors introduced by vandalism (which, if Wikipedia is any guide would be quickly reverted anyway) would be a small price to pay for a much more comprehensive and up-to-date information database. Best of all, users may come up with entirely new categories of location-based information that would further enhance the site's value at virtually no cost to Google.

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Comments on “Google Maps Should Push The Wikipedia Analogy Further”

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Peter Amstutz (profile) says:

Re: Wikimapia

Nice! I just spent twenty minutes labeling businesses in my neighborhood. I wish you could adjust the orientation of the boxes, though, sometimes they don’t really fit the building…

While it would be even better for Google to integrate something like this into Google maps, Wikimapia looks like pretty much the next best thing. Maybe Google will buy them out? 🙂

SteveD says:

Is this really the same as Wikipedia?

I’m not sure decentralised editing would work as well as wikipedia in this case. Incorrect factual information isn’t that much of a problem in wikipedia because of the way people have been brought up to use it (you check references, other sources, etc).

But people have been taught to rely on googlemaps as reliable information. Is it really that easy to change a browsing culture? The context is also fundamentally different; your editing information on yourself and your area rather then more remote factual knowledge. Could local rivalries and neighbourhood disputes move into this?

Its a great idea, but I worry that it could backfire spectacularly.

Thom says:

Google and Maps and Newspaper Partnerships

Google finds itself pitted against newspapers so often that it, and they, need to find a way to work together. I see that way in Maps and… Yardsales…

Every weekend during the summer my local newspaper is filled with yard sale listings. My mom grabs the paper, spends 15 minutes or more reading all the listings, the tries to figure out which ones she wants to visit. It’s a hard decision because some look good, others so-so, and others still she’d only go to if they were near another. It’s hard to tell where each one is though, and that influences choices.

Imagine a Google Yardsale Maps interface, offered to newspapers for free. Newspapers could mirror their yardsale listings on Google. Readers could select any yardsales they are interested in, or all, or even mark definites and maybes. Finally they’d all show up on a printable Google map of the city, labelled and color coded by level of interest, with the actual house addresses printed below.

Certainly someone outside Google (or another map provider) could generate this feature or even individual newspapers themselves. Still, it would be a slick feature to encourage cooperation between Google and newspapers. It’d also send people from communities of all sizes to Google and Google maps and local newspaper’s web sites.

Just a thought…

Thom says:


You’re right that Google offers the Maps API, but it’s not that convenient since it’d require each newspaper to roll their own online system for displaying the yard sale information, favorites selection, and spitting out the data to Google for display. Certainly an outsider could build this and offer it to newspapers for minimal or no cost (ad supported) and even include extended yard sale listings. I just thought it’d be a neat feature for Google since they want to get more local adoption and they could benefit from newspaper partnerships.

On Google paying contractors… I’m sorry but that program is a complete and total joke in most areas and unfortunately if it gets any use in an area it becomes a bigger joke. It takes time and effort and gas to get the information Google wants and for that you’re only guaranteed $2. If, and only if, businesses answer Google’s contact and there’s no discrepancy between the info they provide you and Google do you get the remaining $8. If more than a person or two does this in your area then you end up duplicating their efforts and getting squat for your trouble. What Google should have done is contact all the listed businesses thru direct mailing and assign businesses that reply to registered users/photographers for photo taking and remuneration.

Steven says:

Google Business Referral

When my college aged son learned of this he signed up immediately in order to earn some extra spending money. It didn’t last long because:

1) several businesses treated him like a salesman and told him to get lost
2) other businesses just wouldn’t spare a couple minutes for him or left him to a lowly and busy cash register clerk
3) many businesses haven’t yet bothered to confirm their information to Google
4) he encountered a couple other people attempting to earn spare cash the same way

He was most successful at strip malls where he could hit several businesses with minimal effort, but even with those and the ones that replied he didn’t make enough to justify the hassle involved. It did beat minimum wage on average but not by a lot. Had all businesses confirmed their information then it would’ve made for a much more significant, if short-lived, income though.

Kiki Jones (user link) says:

Maps Tools

Google already has the tools for validating an entry. If you go to the Local Business Center, they have you validate a pin either by phone or snail mail. It could leave some room for vandals, but only by phone and only a couple times. I use it all the time for small business advertising. Seems like they could collect some interesting data about who shows up for a particular address.

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