October 7, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Driving under the influence of Web maps

(continued from previous page)

Lopez and 26 minutes to get back to the office, for a total of 42 minutes, compared with 24 minutes estimated.

To get me back to my office, the Web sites all navigated me down the eastern side of Twin Peaks, which offered a pleasing view of much of the city, San Francisco Bay and Oakland. The directions then guided me through the historic Castro district and down Market Street back to CNET Central.

A Web map odyssey
Credit: CNET News.com
America Online's MapQuest took me
onto a highway, which would have
been trouble at rush hour.

Driving down Market Street was not the best option because, like I said, it's full of street trolleys and, even worse, tourists. Folsom Street, two blocks to the south, wider and less traveled, would have been faster. While Market Street ostensibly has two lanes going each direction, the left lane each way is reserved for buses. The trip down Market would have been a bummer if not for my bold, aggressive and often rule-breaking driving.

Finally, I compared the online driving directions with human knowledge. Getting into a cab, I was tickled to say: "On the double, driver. I'm on deadline," which my Hungarian driver either ignored or pretended not to hear.

Fortunately, the driver lived not too far from my destination. For his route, which cost $37 roundtrip not including tip, he avoided annoying downtown traffic by driving up Howard Street, right by the office, turned right onto a major street, 9th Street, before heading up Market Street. For the return, he again avoided the heart of downtown and turned onto another big street, 8th Street, and then onto Folsom, that big street without all the darn trolleys and tourists.

In the taxi, the drive took 23 minutes out and 24 minutes back, for a total of 47 minutes. While the journey took a little longer than most of the routes navigated by the Web sites, it had a great big upside: I wasn't driving and getting peeved at slow drivers screwing up my unofficial survey.

Did I mention I'm an aggressive driver?

A Web map odyssey
Credit: CNET News.com
Google took me on a circuitous,
sometimes confusing route.

So it looks like Yahoo's directions were pokey, and MSN's, near as I can figure, would have had me jumping a divider. Asked to explain the apparent glitch in its driving directions, a Microsoft spokesperson said the company uses the most accurate and up-to-date data from its providers within the algorithm used to calculate routes.

"In some cases there are anomalies in the maps or driving directions, or there are road developments that may not yet be in our datasets, and we encourage customers who find them to alert us about them at gmmer@microsoft.com," said Trina Seinfeld, group product manager, Microsoft MapPoint.

In fairness to both, really, a Yahoo spokeswoman said: "We have one of the better geo-coding and routing capabilities to date. All mapping products out there are going to have some inconsistencies."

If there's one thing I learned from my day on the road: She's right.

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24 comments

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Frustrating Web Directions
I loved this article, because it detailed many aspects of driving under the influence of the web's "accurate and efficient" directions. I also live in a metroplex of sorts, and still have yet to know my way around well enough that I can forego any help. Unfortunately, I was not aware of some others' map & direction features, such as Yahoo and MSN. I've mostly used Mapquest, and I can personally atest to the fact that there are quite a lot of hit and miss with arriving at the destination I specify. I have found that the direction I receive is inaccurate, causing much frustration and eventual retreat before I start WWIII.

I HAVE found that Google's map features to be VERY detailed and helpful. Time isn't so much an issue for me as aactually getting to my destination. Google's graphical interface in their maps is some positive eye candy, especially with the overlay feature, allowing the user to pull up the satellite image along with map features like street names and landmarks.

All in all, I would agree with the author about how web directions aren't 100%, but they could at least try to keep up with ever expanding areas, like metroplexes.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Web Maps Story
I think some of these map services actually do better with cross-country directions as opposed to intercity efforts.

I'd like to see a story like this doing a comparison of GPS services. Wonder if the results would be similar....
Posted by Jane in KC (94 comments )
Link Flag
Frustrating Web Directions
I loved this article, because it detailed many aspects of driving under the influence of the web's "accurate and efficient" directions. I also live in a metroplex of sorts, and still have yet to know my way around well enough that I can forego any help. Unfortunately, I was not aware of some others' map & direction features, such as Yahoo and MSN. I've mostly used Mapquest, and I can personally atest to the fact that there are quite a lot of hit and miss with arriving at the destination I specify. I have found that the direction I receive is inaccurate, causing much frustration and eventual retreat before I start WWIII.

I HAVE found that Google's map features to be VERY detailed and helpful. Time isn't so much an issue for me as aactually getting to my destination. Google's graphical interface in their maps is some positive eye candy, especially with the overlay feature, allowing the user to pull up the satellite image along with map features like street names and landmarks.

All in all, I would agree with the author about how web directions aren't 100%, but they could at least try to keep up with ever expanding areas, like metroplexes.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Web Maps Story
I think some of these map services actually do better with cross-country directions as opposed to intercity efforts.

I'd like to see a story like this doing a comparison of GPS services. Wonder if the results would be similar....
Posted by Jane in KC (94 comments )
Link Flag
Sometime the driving instructions get quite interesting...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/20.62.html#subj18" target="_newWindow">http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/20.62.html#subj18</a>

See the above link for a good example.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Urban Legend
that must be an UL - it give me an 89 mile route when I tried it on expedia.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
Link Flag
Sometime the driving instructions get quite interesting...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/20.62.html#subj18" target="_newWindow">http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks/20.62.html#subj18</a>

See the above link for a good example.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Urban Legend
that must be an UL - it give me an 89 mile route when I tried it on expedia.
Posted by shoffmueller (236 comments )
Link Flag
Sometimes narrative is a poor choice of words.
A chart! A chart! My kindom for a chart!

I'll take tabulation over confabulation anytime.
Posted by TogetherinParis (318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
maps
The driving directions places do provide maps with their textual directions.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
Sometimes narrative is a poor choice of words.
A chart! A chart! My kindom for a chart!

I'll take tabulation over confabulation anytime.
Posted by TogetherinParis (318 comments )
Reply Link Flag
maps
The driving directions places do provide maps with their textual directions.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
Report map or directions errors to the source
With a little more research, the author would have noticed that Tele Atlas provides almost no data for north american online map sites. NAVTEQ provides almost all of them.

Besides that, the author is dead on that the real difference between the sites is presenation and their calculation software.

If you find problems in any of the online map sites, let the map source NAVTEQ know about it so it is corrected everywhere. It is really quick to do at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://update.navteq.com/" target="_newWindow">http://update.navteq.com/</a> The first thing I did was send them new info on my neighborhood and it was corrected within about six months after they verified it.
Posted by T-Byrd (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Report map or directions errors to the source
With a little more research, the author would have noticed that Tele Atlas provides almost no data for north american online map sites. NAVTEQ provides almost all of them.

Besides that, the author is dead on that the real difference between the sites is presenation and their calculation software.

If you find problems in any of the online map sites, let the map source NAVTEQ know about it so it is corrected everywhere. It is really quick to do at <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://update.navteq.com/" target="_newWindow">http://update.navteq.com/</a> The first thing I did was send them new info on my neighborhood and it was corrected within about six months after they verified it.
Posted by T-Byrd (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
All the databases are often the same.
I was trying to create a map to post on a client's web site, and every single mapping service I tried has the building located in the wrong place (half way up the block). I contacted all of the mapping services, and the answers I got back were that they used the planning information provided to them by the government (local, I think), and that there was no means of correcting it. If I really cared, I could go complain to my local public works or city planning department, I guess.
Posted by tvleavitt (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I've Run Into This
i was trying to check out a friend's home in biloxi, ms, and the two mapping services i tried (mapquest, google) both had the home located on the peninsula, which took the brunt of hurricane katrina's surge, and not across the back bay, where many folks were taking refuge with friends after the storm (i lived there for many years and know better).

i was trying to bring up a photo of the area to check the condition of things myself in the first few days of the storm, and had to wait two weeks before she was able to get phone service and let me know all was okay.

all this makes me wonder: how many folks, knowing a street address but not ever having been there, used such faulty maps and the imagery to worry themselves more? these databases need to be cleaned up.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
All the databases are often the same.
I was trying to create a map to post on a client's web site, and every single mapping service I tried has the building located in the wrong place (half way up the block). I contacted all of the mapping services, and the answers I got back were that they used the planning information provided to them by the government (local, I think), and that there was no means of correcting it. If I really cared, I could go complain to my local public works or city planning department, I guess.
Posted by tvleavitt (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I've Run Into This
i was trying to check out a friend's home in biloxi, ms, and the two mapping services i tried (mapquest, google) both had the home located on the peninsula, which took the brunt of hurricane katrina's surge, and not across the back bay, where many folks were taking refuge with friends after the storm (i lived there for many years and know better).

i was trying to bring up a photo of the area to check the condition of things myself in the first few days of the storm, and had to wait two weeks before she was able to get phone service and let me know all was okay.

all this makes me wonder: how many folks, knowing a street address but not ever having been there, used such faulty maps and the imagery to worry themselves more? these databases need to be cleaned up.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
 

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