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Finding your way after 15 years with Google Maps

19 February 2020 7:31 PM
Digital technology

Google has not only indexed the internet, but they have also mapped the world

It seems right that two Danish coders working for a company in Australia would be acquired by an American country to create a free global mapping system.

That was February 2005, it was not long before it first became a very popular destination. After Hurricane Katrina in September 2005, they uploaded updated images of the area to assist with understanding how serious it was and which areas could still be accessed.

Each year or two they add new services and acquired more mapping related companies. Traffic and map updates got a shot in the arm when they bought Waze, still a popular option for South Africans. One of its benefits is that it can track the car path followed and so when roads and routes change or are added the map is able to see the change and update it sooner. When Cape Town updated the Koeberg Interchange, Waze was able to track the temporary route and the new route before most maps reflected the changes.

Google Earth offered the ability to explore and build incredible journeys whether through cities or the wilderness. It was not without issue though, the world is a big place and match a photo to a map on a virtual planet is not an easy task, but for most, it offered the best view of the world. Not enough to dissuade flat earthers though. You can take a look at the moon and see the locations too of the Apollo landings.

Sometimes it does not quite work out. A performance artist recently used 99 phones in a small wagon and walked around Berlin to create mini virtual traffic jams wherever he went. Google uses feedback from phones to determine how busy a road is, lots of phones suggests lots of cars, if they are moving slowly suggests the cars are too. But that is hardly the danger, during the US fires in California, those looking to safely get away were sometimes being directed into the fires for no other reason that there were no phones in those areas which were assumed to mean the roads were free rather than they were surrounded by wildfires.

They are working on improving public transport but rely on accurate schedules from the transit authorities, for South African cities I would hope PRASA might agree to work with Google and supply both the schedules and placed phones with accounts that identify the specific train. Now rather than hoping for a train, you can follow its journey the way you might track your Uber. There are other apps that have tried or are trying to do this, hopefully, it gets done before the 30th anniversary and not just the trains, the same should be happening with busses. We can already track aircraft and ships.

As a business tool

Odds are when you are looking for service, restaurant or venue to get away, you start with a Google search. If your business listed on Google maps most of your business details will also be available via the search results.

Google has hundreds of millions of businesses listed in over 200 countries and has over a billion people use the maps to get around or search every month. It is now more a liability to not be listed than be listed and makes it more important that you both claim and keep your listing updated.

Register your business get more leads from search or voice with the assistant being able to automatically place a call, check your opening hours and if it is correctly configured you can book an appointment.

Take a look inside if it is a hotel or specialist store, restaurants can showcase their menus

If you have staff on the road you can have them share their location both for your micromanagement needs and to track them for safety reasons. The service can be activated by switching to a business profile which would allow the user to only share their location while working although they could go incognito or disable it.

For you

The same might be useful for your partner and children. If you enable the timeline, Google will keep a list of places you visited and if you take pictures and enable geolocation, will list them there too.

At the end of the year or sooner should you wish you can get a review of the places, cities and countries you have visited. For those that need to account for travel, this is a good backup to your mileage tracker.

Besides plotting a route to your destination, it will calculate the time to get there and even reroute you depending on the traffic. If you specify your home and work location, it will advise you if the time to get to work or home is better or worse than normal when you are due to leave.

While driving it can open and manage your music streaming service while pausing it when important turns are coming up. It can include a speed tracker which can notify you when you exceed the speed limit.

You can use voice to update your destination as you go along and ask about how much time it will take to get there (just don’t ask too often or it will threaten to turn the car around and go home).

You can ask for detours to fill up or find a shop. You can also share your location with others so they would know when to expect you or if you are meeting someone at a concert or at a shopping mall it would allow you to easily find them.

Switching to the street view option and you can visit most of the worlds best know cities and sights remotely. Once most of the streets were done, they moved to the tourist sights. Never been to Kirstenbosch Gardens, you can take a walk anytime and not get tired. Next on the list was getting around indoors. Most airports and malls have now been added to the street view options. You can even visit the International Space station.

Looking for a new home, take a virtual tour of the neighbourhood and see what will be close by.

If you are walking you probably get a bit caught out by which way you should be walking, with the augmented reality overlay you can point your camera down the street and it will show you where you need to go.

Speaking of augmented reality Google maps has been the basis for some very popular games, with Pokemon Go generating lots of buzz and big crowds which the craze to catch Pokemon in the real world.

If you would prefer to finding things that are a bit more real, try the update button. It will recommend places to visit that are similar to other places you have visited and rated and you can ask to be notified when a new coffee shop or gallery opens.

Most of the overlay data is crowdsourced and so you will see the contribute button feature a lot more prominently, once you have visited a business, it will prompt you for a review, more reviews allow others to get a better sense of what it was like. If you took pictures it will ask if you would like to add them to the public pictures of the venue. I tend to take pictures as a reminder of the places I have visited and those that are generic I have added to the Google listings. Over the last few years, I have posted almost 1000 and Google informs me that they have been viewed over a million times with one image I took of the Egyptian exhibit at a museum in Berlin has over 50 000.

There are badges as a means of motivation and thanks to getting more images, videos and reviews as well as adding or updating the details about a business. Finally, you can ask a question about a business which will either be answered from the database or trigger notifications on phones for users that have visited the location and answered some questions before.

If you hop across to Google Earth you can continue your virtual travels and set up or follow amazing places to visit created by others. The image quality now is incredible with most areas converted into 3D models. If you have VR goggles you can wander the planet immersively and in time I am sure you would be able to visit the Moon and Mars the same way.

Image attribution: Google maps

19 February 2020 7:31 PM
Digital technology

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