Thursday, 7 June 2012

Maps: To Google or not to Google?

Map of 8 hours of tweets over London using Google Maps
BBC has reported that Google is launching a major upgrade of its mapping technology (bolds inserted by Web 3.0 Lab and not the BBC):

Google has demonstrated new mapping technologies in an effort to reassert its position as a market leader. While it boasts one billion users, Google Maps has recently seen defections by some key developers and partners. Reports suggest Apple may abandon Google Maps next week at its annual developer conference. They suggest Apple may announce its own mapping application to replace Google Maps on its smartphones and tablets. 
To counteract any negative publicity, Google executives held a media event on Wednesday in San Francisco to preview new mapping features and trumpet a decade of achievements in digital mapping, including its use of satellite, aerial and street-level views. Among the stand-out features were 3D enhancements to Google Earth, a portable device for taking "street view" panoramic photos and offline access to Google Maps on Android phones. 
Laura Locke at BBC 

For a long time the choice you had in mapping was Bing or Google.  Frankly that was something of a 'no brainer'.  Google satellite images alone were often clearly and generally taken at better times of the day. Just writing this post I looked the same location in both Bing and Google and it is hard to escape that the quality of Google is higher.  Bing seemed to not care what time of day their image was taken.

Bing map shows a late afternoon shot with much of the detail cast in shadow

Google map of the same site taken in bright light showing more details.
But we no longer live in a climate dominated by the two big Cloud players.  And two factors have changed everything: the emergence of Apple and the rise of Open Source.  Our resent testing with Open Maps have shown that an open sourced mapping technology has a lot of promises. Not only does it offer a mapping technology free of charge, and free for all times in the future, but the work of many hands gives very detailed maps that include local data about places you can't get with Google maps.  For example the Open Map for the area I live knows all kinds of things about what businesses are around, what certain areas are called by the locals, about foot paths and garden structures.

Here is an example, the Olympic Park in London.  The Google map shows almost no detail on what is there.  Now look at the Open Map, which is full of extensive detail.  Which of these two maps would you rather use?

Google Map lacks any real detail of the Park or public spaces around it.
Open map gives a very rich detailed picture of what is in the park, easy to read and understand it is simply a better map.
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