It is Different With COVID-19…

I started blogging in May of 2005. Right before Katrina hit and everything we knew about GIS disaster response changed. Katrina was that moment where the static image PDF of a map changed to a map service that ran on almost any modern (at the time) web browser. Immediately every GIS map server that was out there became irrelevant at best, dead to the world at worst. Remember though, Google bought Google Earth almost a year before Katrina and Google Maps didn’t launch until early 2005. The tools that created this disaster response revolution were in place, but not too many people used them or had heard of them. But less than 6 months after Google Maps hit the web, Katrina response was almost entirely driven by their tools.

Remember this? Don’t try and pan!

If you look at my blog entries from September and October, you can see attempts by Esri, Microsoft, Yahoo! and others to try and address this new paradigm of mapping but none of them stuck. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was using Google. Esri ArcScripts back then probably had 50 tools to convert SHP to KML or MXD to KML. We had tools like Arc2Earth that specialized in making maps easier with Google. And while Esri tools were still being used to generate the data, the display was happening on other platforms.

This of course gave rise to the Neogeography revolution. I’ll spare you the bare breasted Andrew Turner graphic but at this time we had so many people doing things with GIS that had no idea what GIS was let alone what Esri was. The limitations on getting started with mapping went down and all you needed was a computer and a text editor to make a map. My blog is littered with examples of Neogeography, from EVS Islands to all that great Flickr mapping that Dan Catt and crew did back then. People didn’t ask for permission, they just did it. It all culminated in what I consider the greatest crowdsourced disaster mapping effort, the wildfires in San Diego back in 2007 (feel free to choose the Haiti response over this, that’s fine. I really like the example of using Google My Maps in your backyard for this).

In all fairness, Andrew wasn’t literally saying it killed GIS.

But something happened after this, it isn’t that people stopped mapping. Look at OSM growth. The amount of crowd sourced data continues to grow exponentially. But responses to disasters seemed to be run by Google and Microsoft themselves. Tools like Google My Maps continue to exist, but I truly can’t recall using one in the past 10 years. Or if the disaster was not interesting enough for Google, you’d see people using government websites to get that information. The Esri mapping had finally caught up that people would use the fire maps from the DOI other 3 letter agencies without complaining. The citizen effort moved to Twitter where it continues to show great promise, just not as a Google My Map. Take a look at the Bush Fire here in Arizona on Twitter. So many great posts by people but maps are either static images shared or links to traditional InciWeb maps.

This brings us full circle to COVID-19 mapping. Think of the best and most up to date COVID websites. They are built on Esri technology. Google has websites, Microsoft has them too. But the Esri dashboard has finally had its moment in the sun. I wonder if this is because the market has matured, that the tools have matured or the data set lends itself to a more scientific approach to display rather than simple lines and points. The Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Maps & Trends website is the bible for this epidemic.

GIS is no longer a side show on this response. I’m guessing that because this is more structured government data, Esri is uniquely positioned to be in the middle of it but even then, their tools have come a long way from the ArcIMS/ArcWeb madness that we dealt with during Katrina. COVID-19 dashboard is the opposite of Neogeography and that is OK. The influence of the citizens on mapping is clearly shown in the Esri tools we deal with today. They still drive me nuts from time to time but let’s be honest, they really do work for this situation. As we close out 1/2 of the way through 2020, hopefully we can keep the need for disaster response to a minimum.

Google Maps at 15 Years

So hearing that Google Maps is now 15, you have one of two thoughts. “Boy that’s a long time” or “Boy, that’s a long time”. It really is a long time, this blog isn’t 15 years old yet (but we’re getting close). I thought it would be fun to look back at my first mention of Google Maps:

… ESRI does include metadata with their ArcWeb Services datasets. Take a look at the U.S Street Map Service metadata page. This information is available for every ArcMap service. But it isn’t just ESRI. Geodata.gov has extensive metadata as well as other providers of data (when you get satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe, they give it to you).

About Google Maps hackers just don’t get it – “It’s all moot”

So of course my first mention of Google Maps had everything that made 2005 amazing.

  1. Mention of Esri – yea I used to be “the Esri blogger”
  2. Mention of ArcWeb – boy I think I was the only one who tried to use that madness
  3. Metadata – what argument in 2005 didn’t have some amazing metadata reference

The funny thing about this is nobody cares about metadata in Google Maps anymore. It was a fake issue back then, but in the end anyone who needs detailed metadata about imagery, uses a service that has that information in it. The rest of us, just use Google Maps.

Google shuts down Google Maps’ editing tools

I mean I wasn’t a big editor in Google Maps but I know people did use it. Over the weekend this appeared, sadly not a April Fools joke.

Google Map Maker officially closed on March 31, 2017, and many of its features are being integrated into Google Maps.
Now you might think this is cool, integrated in to Google Maps natively. Unfortunately there is a huge functionality difference between Google Map Maker and Google Maps editing.

I think this is a reflection on the type of editing being done. It’s mostly POI editing rather than actual mapping. So it’s up to OSM to continue the open mapping platform which is how it should be in the first place. Google Maps Maker is probably best known for this image that was removed about 2 years ago.

Waze sued for allegedly stealing data from another navigation app

Well I’m not sure how much this had to do with Waze being owned by Google or not but PhantomAlert is suing Waze.

Before the advent of GPS and navigation apps, cartographers sneaked “paper towns” and “trap streets” into their maps—fake points of interest that they used to detect plagiarism. If someone copied their map, it would be easily identifiable through the inclusion of those locations. That same trick has found its way into modern-day mapping systems: A new lawsuit brought against Google and its traffic app Waze cites sham points of interest as evidence that the Google-owned service copied from a competitor’s database.

Apparently these two companies tried to make a deal before Google snapped up Waze and PhantomAlert is alleging that Waze used their database to “boost its profile”.  One of the biggest concerns in the OpenStreetMap community is allowing these intentional mistakes into their database.  Copyright Easter Eggs is well documented on the OSM website.

Copyright Easter Egg, in terms of mapping, is a feature that is drawn in a distinctive way in order to help identify its original author. It may be a nonexistent, or slightly or heavily distorted, map feature, or its name may be wrongly or unusually spelt.

The supposed main purpose of such a feature is to strengthen the author’s case in a copyright dispute. If he can show that his own unique feature appears in the defendant’s work, it is easier to prove that the defendant’s work is a copy of his.

google_logo

Hey look, I got to use the new Google logo already!

Yea so if this is true, PhantomAlert has a pretty good idea that Waze stole their data and it could mean big trouble for Google.  Having a closed database like this opens Waze up to these kinds of lawsuits because they are unable to have the community police the data.  The big question is was this data imported into Waze intentionally or by accident.  I don’t think the latter will get them off the hook but if there was intent it could be costly.  We’ll have to see.  The Waze byline about “outsmarting traffic, together” might not be too smart.

Google now offers pay-as-you-go for Google Maps API

Seriously right?  About time!  Most users of Google’s Maps API are caught between the free tier and the “I wish I had a business model to pay for the premium tier” pricing.  But Google has figured this out and introduced a new way to pay for the Google Maps API.

Today we’re introducing a simple and flexible option for developers to instantly and easily scale with these Web Service APIs, by opening them up to pay-as-you-go purchasing via the Google Developers Console. In this new purchasing structure, the Google Maps Geocoding, Directions, Distance Matrix, Roads, Geolocation, Elevation, and Time Zone APIs remain free of charge for the first 2,500 requests per day, and developers may now simply pay $0.50 USD per 1,000 additional requests up to 100,000 requests per API per day. Developers requiring over 100,000 requests per day should contact us to purchase a premium licence.

This is huge because now you’ll know what you’re paying for the API rather than wait for that huge bill at the end of the month.  Knowing what things are going to cost is key to building spatial applications. Provide your billing details and build away!

Google Here Never Was

Indoor mapping is the white whale of our Spatial IT industry.  We’re always reading about how our smartphones will lead us to the best deals or how I can find the specific nail I need in Home Depot without having to ask anyone or walk down every aisle.  They key to all this is essentially iBeacon.

You can search Google News for all the latest excitement on the concept but essentially it is a way for your phone to know where things are and for the vendors to know where you phone is through Bluetooth.  Imagine walking into a store and getting alerts about your favorite beer being on sale and then the ability to navigate directly there.  Sexy right?  Plus we’ve been anticipating this happening for years.  Except

Google was set to launch a new product that added context to one of its most successful apps, Google Maps. But earlier this year, it was shut down by Alphabet CEO Larry Page, according to people familiar with the project.

Google Here worked by sending a notification to a smartphone user’s lock screen within five seconds of their entering a partner’s location. If the user clicked on the notification, a full screen HTLM5 “app” experience would launch. Google Here would know when to send the notification via Google Maps and beacons placed in the stores of participating partners. Google planned to supply the beacons to partners for the launch, according to the document. The experience could also be found by going to the Google Maps app.

Exactly what we though everyone wanted.  In testing the application was deemed too invasive and Google feared no retailers would sign up.  That’s right, Google didn’t think could get their partners to install cheap beacons in their stores AND they feared they were too big brother.  Seems weird doesn’t it, if there is one company that can get companies to spend money on ads, it is Google.  And since when did Google ever think pushing ads on us was “invasive”?

The magic about Google Here (Here as in not Here that was owned by Nokia) was that you didn’t need an app running for it to work.  Think about that for a minute, ads would appear on your phone based on where you where and you didn’t need to opt in to get them.  Now we see why Google was very concerned that Here was going to get a large backlash.  Being able to push ads on users would have been something they really could have sold well to companies, I’m not sure there would be any fear of companies not wanting to push ads on us.

Beacons are still very important to Google. Their Eddystone project talks about lots of uses of beacons but not for ad delivery.  Clearly there was feedback on this project and it jolted Google out of their normal sell more ads business model.  I think beacons will be very valuable as they start appearing in more areas, but I for one don’t need to get an ad for fabric softener every time I walk into a Target.

Personalized Storm Tracking by Google

If there is one thing that gets the GeoMarketers excited, it is natural disasters.  Every year at this time we see hurricane trackers, 3D storm viewers and other “exciting” products to help protect us from the wrath of mother nature.  This year Google is promoting their Personalized Storm Tracker.

The safety recommendations you receive will be tailored to reflect the current status of the event and your context. For example, if you search for a specific storm when it’s still several days away, you may see a map of the developing weather event and a recommendation to start preparing an emergency kit. If the storm is only hours away from your location, you might receive a reminder to start charging your phone in case power goes out. And if you search when the storm is nearby, you’ll get the most urgent information, like how to avoid injury from fast-moving water or flying debris.

I feel like these things are more trouble than they are worth.  Last Sunday I was at Sky Harbor Airport when a dust storm alert went off on all the iPhones in the baggage claim area.  The whole place sounded loud as the alerts went off warning us that wind and dust were headed our way.  The result of this great warning, people making jokes.  Sure an alert was issued, sure it probably is a safety thing that we all get these alerts on our phones.  But the delivery isn’t personalized, it’s a broadcast message and then 10 minutes of people joking about the alerts.

At least in the USA, storms don’t sneak up on anyone.  These products are great press but of little value.

Google Map Maker is Officially Back in the USA

Well good news for those who want to help a down on its luck company like Google update their maps.

Google Map Maker, the tool which allows anyone around the world to contribute information to Google’s worldwide map, has re-opened in 45 countries after going live again in 6 countries two weeks ago. The product was temporarily shut down in May after it was discovered that some nefarious edits to the map, like geographic polygons shaped to depict an Android peeing on what is ostensibly an Apple logo, were being approved.

If you want to help Google, just go to Google Map Maker and start editing.  Just know your edits will get locked up and used to make a ton of money.  Here in the USA you can’t create polygons yet but I suppose that will be back soon.

Google Maps Gets Lost in Photos

Look I love iOS but I still use Google Maps as much as possible because it works better than any other mapping service out there.  But I’m beginning to wonder what Google is thinking by adding some new features.

Now Google is looking to capitalize on this ongoing trend with a new feature in Google Maps that encourages users to share their “foodie pics” with others by posting the photo to Google Maps itself.

It could be that I live in a car town and navigation is the reason I use Google Maps but the idea that I would use my mapping app to take pictures of food is a bit out there.  I mean don’t they have their own social media network to handle this?  Oh right

Google Map Maker Returns

You may recall that Google took down Map Maker blaming it on algorithms.

Certain offensive search terms were triggering unexpected maps results, typically because people had used the offensive term in online discussions of the place. This surfaced inappropriate results that users likely weren’t looking for.

Well Google has apparently figured out a plan to allow people to start editing the Google map data.

Map Maker will be reopened for editing in early August, and we’re looking for users to now have more influence over the outcome of edits in their specific countries. This means that edits on Map Maker will be increasingly made open for moderation by the community. While some edits will still require moderation by Google operators, our loyal users will recognize that this is a departure from how we have operated in the past where majority of your edits were reviewed by Google operators. This has been a request you’ve made for a very long time, and this change should, hopefully, come as good news.

Community editing, who knew? Google will be “selecting” mappers around the world to be “Regional Leads” on Map Maker. I’m not sure why anyone would want this title but I guess we’ll see soon enough what it entails. Edits have to be moderated before they are published to the map so the quick updates that happened before (and of course happen with OSM) won’t work for Google. I think though considering how things went last time, any change is good for Google.