I just noticed that Google Map's aerial images of Whistler (hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics) is now nice and white. This is definite a change (and other ski locations I visited have not been updated with winter data).
As the geosocial revolution continues - creating more and more intimate links between the digital space and our physical spaces via mobile devices and data driven services - the word 'neighborhood' is becoming more and more prominent. A neighborhood (in urban terms, larger than a block, smaller than a zipcode) is the perfect granularity to connect with users as we spend a good chunk of our time there.
'Near by' is often scoped by neighborhood, our schools define catchment areas at this level, supermarkets serve neighborhood sized portions of the population.
As we see the rise of geosocial gaming (things like Foursquare, Gowalla, MyTown), and the mechanisms they introduce being adopted by other spatially aware services (Yelp) we are also seeing the rise of the importance of real estate data. It is in no way surprising that Google is interested in the real estate market.
NabeWise, a new neighborhood review site, similar in some regards to both EveryBlock and Centerd. It's just opened its doors with coverage for New York and San Francisco, and its entry points are qualities of neighborhoods (trendy, singles, beautiful people, etc.). It is very interesting to note that the sign up process includes the question 'are you a real estate agent?'
Design-wise, many of these sites have to address the presentation of rich data in an understandable and consumable manner. In this regard, these resident oriented sites have similarities with real estats 2.0 sites (RedFin, Zillow, Trulia) and take advantage of the increased data literacy of a younger, web 2.0 savvy audience.
Key in all of this is the bedrock data set of neighborhoods. As the LA times demonstrated with their Mapping LA project, the definition of any neighborhood is somewhat subjective and borders need to be negotiated. For many cities, Wikipedia keeps rich pages describing neighborhoods and their histories.
From a UX point of view, we can expect to see more interfaces with elements like these, sampled from some of the companies above (NabeWise, Trulia, EveryBlock):
The blogosphere is abuzz with reports of Google's Near Me Now feature which provides mobile searchers with a very quick route to local search results organized by category (coffee shop, ATM, what have you). Going for the bus this morning, I thought I would give it a try, so I enabled the various pieces on my iPhone so that Google could locate me, then asked for near-me-now ATMs and Banks. The results I got back on the SERP looked pretty reasonable. I was impressed to see that they got the nesting of some establishments correct (there is a bank inside the Whole Foods for example). Sweet.
The UI is very nice - it shows up on the main mobile entry page.
But - then I hit the 'map all results' button. What I found was a set of results that weren't only spread over the US (hits in multiple states), but also in Europe (Denmark and France) and Australia. Being a forgiving person by nature, I tried again, this time from the bus and for coffee shops, not banks. Again, I found results on the map which were over the US and outside.
Now, readers of this blog will be familiar with my style of opinion-disguised-as-data-driven-analyis, but on this point I'm confounded. My first 2 interactions with this new feature showed serious problems. In addition, and this is what really gets me, all the link lovethatotherblogs are giving to this feature (at least those exposed by TechMeme) don't seem to have cottoned on to this issue.
To be somewhat objectve, I just ran the ATM query again from my office and found these results on the map:
Bankwest: 108, St. Georges Tce, Perth WA 6000 Australia
Bankwest ATM: 119 Lamington St New Farm QLD 4005 Australia
Dresdner Bank Filiale Jungfernstieg: Jungfernstieg 22, 20354 Hamburg, Germany
Les Nuits De La Citadelle: Rue de la Saunerie 04200 Sisteron France
To be clear: all the interactions except the mapping are great. The mapping shows serious problems with something in the product.
Perhaps Inigo Montoya might have an opinion about the word 'near':
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Cartogrammar has an interesting post describing using photographs tied to locations to interpolate average colours in a map. By positioning the pictures in space and analyzing them for colour distribution, then taking a function of the colours of pictures in the same area, some quality of the location as a function of photographs, emerges.
Coming back Portland (actually, Vancouver, WA to make it more geographically confusing), we decided to stop by Olympia for lunch. Craving some excellent Panera bread, we searched on Google maps and found a location at 1320 Marion St NE.
Excited to use our iPhone’s ‘from current location’ feature, we dutifully followed the prescribed route to 1320 Marion St.
Now, as Bing map’s awesome bird’s eye view feature shows, this is not a likely spot for a high street or mall style sandwich shop:
In fact, if we had used Bing maps, we would have found the nearest Paner to be located at the similarly sounding 1320 Marvin Rd NE, Lacey, WA.
Did we get it right? Not quite – this first listing is the sponsored link from Yellow Pages.com. Bing’s first listing is the incorrect address:
But, this isn’t a story of us versus them. This is about how data is sourced and proliferates through the web.
Searching on Bing for the incorrect address, we can see that Yellow Pages lists this address for Panda Express, providing the map to remote area. No doubt the source of the data updated the tenant but didn’t check the location (even though the sponsored link on Bing from Yellow Pages is to the correct address!)
Bing Local lists this incorrect address for Panera as well.
CitySearch also lists the Panda Express entry, even though:
Citysearch is a leading online lifestyle guide with the most up-to-date information on businesses, from restaurants and spas, to hotels and retail.
As a number of these listings provide the phone number, I searched on Google to see if there was any sort of reverse look up. Again, like Bing, Google appears to have multiple entries – a search for 360-456-4069 brings up the correct address:
While we often hear about where search will be in the next n years, and chuckle at Eric Schmidt’s need to humour Brin’s master plan we have to acknowledge that there are some basic wins in existing data sets that are simply slipping through the gaps. A big part of the reason is that we (the search industry) has never made any commitment to representing information in any serious manner. A logical representation of data wouldn’t permit the type of confusion we see around the above bread shop (sorry, this phone number is taken – did you make a mistake?).
TechCrunch is a great example of the difference between influence and authority.
Yesterday, Arrington posted about how the different mapping services (Google, Yahoo and Bing) were coping with the closure of a local bridge. As many of the commentors on that post pointed out, a single data point does not constitute any form of analysis, and no real conclusion can be drawn. Of course, TechCrunch gets a lot of readers, so the idea that Google is better than Yahoo is better than Bing is going to stick with some number of people.
To double the number of data points in consideration wrt this issue, take a look below at how Google and Bing are dealing with the closure of Princes Street in Edinburgh (due to the installation of a tram).
This month’s National Geographic has a nice article in it about the DNA variation in the population of New York. The article is illustrated by a nicely designed projection of the world which tracks the paths of human migration.
A little more searching at NationalGeographic.com for the phrase ‘the human journey’ brings up an almost identical map. The map in this months edition is clearly derived from this, but I see that the alternate version is dated March 2006.
If you’ve got a good picture – reuse and recycle!
The National Geographic and the Economist are my favourite main stream sources for continued excellence in articles that contain information and data visualization.
This video from the Where 2.0 conference is worth a look. Then jump to the higher quality demo videos at the source: C3. The product is a spinoff from the Swedish defense industry and has clear relationships with various mapping systems Bing Maps and Google Earth, as well as Photosynth. It’s hard for a static image to do it justice, but the below is a capture of the video linked to above:
I heard someone from Stamen talking yesterday at the MSR Social Computing Symposium. He mentioned that they had produced the maps for the London Olympics site and that all the cartographic resources were custom made to avoid any copyright issues. A nice site.