I think Google Maps are bad for me.

Another episode in the continuing saga, "Janet is a tremendous Luddite."

Back when I was "between Ph.D.s" one of the things I did so I could pay rent was work as an SAT-prep tutor. The company I worked for didn't do classroom presentations to a group of students, but rather sent us out on "house calls" to the students' homes for the tutoring. This meant I had clients in many different towns in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, from San Carlos to Fremont to Los Gatos. And I had to figure out, from an address, how to get to each of them.

Of course, this was back in 1994, well before Google Maps (or Yahoo Maps or MapQuest). This meant that I had to invest in a Thomas Brothers Guide, a spiral bound book of road maps for all the towns in each of the counties in the Bay Area. When I got the address of a new client, I'd find it on the map for that town, then work out the best way to get there from my house using the available freeways or surface streets. Given how many clients I was juggling in any given week, I'd also figure out how to get to client A's house from client B's house. And, because unexpected slowdowns tend to stress me out when I'm scheduled to arrive at an address at a particular time, I'd usually work out at least one alternate route to my destination before I even got in the car.

I learned a lot during the nine months during which I was an itinerant tutor. For one thing, being paid $15/hour for your face-time with your students isn't such a great deal when you spend as many hours (or more) overall driving to get to them.

But, on the plus side, my mental maps of the towns where I had clients, and of the connections between these towns, got to be really good. I actually developed a pretty solid intuitive sense of how to get to locations I hadn't visited before because I knew where most of the major roads were and how they connected and intersected with each other. I had a long stretch of time during which I could get pretty much anywhere and never got badly lost.

Now, when I'm going someplace new (or someplace I haven't been in a long time), I generally plug in the termini and let Google Maps set my route. But while this has been a fine strategy for getting me from point A to point B, it has left me feeling increasingly ignorant of the street geography of the areas around points A and B. In my mental mapping of these regions, often all I have is the roads which Google has selected for my trip. The surrounding roads and regions are big blank spaces to me. They could have dragons in them for all I know.

And I've decided that I don't care for that. I'm not satisfied that Google knows its way around the towns I visit. I would like to feel like I understand them, like I have more of a geographical "context" for understanding the places I visit. Bay Area or not, I would like to feel like more of an informed denizen than Google is.

So I'm going to dig under the front seat and see if I can find my Thomas Brothers Guide. I may continue to ask Google for advice, but I will no longer let Google define my driving horizons.

(At Crooked Timber, Eszter points out that Google Maps can now be coaxed into providing alternate routes, but I'm still wanting the big picture I remember having from poring over a bunch of different maps myself.)

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I found the same issues with Google and Yahoo maps a few years ago when I worked for a youth services company that provided after-school programming for at risk teens. We used to have to drive a van around, picking up kids from schools and homes and it paid to be VERY familiar with the neighborhoods, traffic patterns, and alternate routes in order to get the kids to the program on time.

That was one of the most challenging and frustrating jobs I ever had! But if you were good at route-planning it paid off. I'd NEVER let mapquest or one of the other online services plan a route for me!

In praise of mental mapping: A taxi driver took me from the courthouse in downtown Los Angeles in midweek rushhour traffic to my home in the northern tip of Alhambra in 19 minutes.

My morning driver took 92 minutes to get me from home to the courthouse. (Not a problem: I'd allotted 2 hours.) (And nothing serious, just jury duty that resulted in people sitting all day for five days straight and then going home Friday evening, having done nothing.)

You can have it both ways. The new Google Maps lets you 'deselect' the route it picked so that you use a road you want. You drag the pre-drawn line over to the road you prefer, and it remaps the remainder of the route.

I am a total map nerd, so I was surprised and chagrined to discover many years ago that my sister operated almost completely on a "Mapquest" view of the world (though back then I would have called it a "trip-tik" view.) It was all just directions to her and I accused her of viewing freeways as basically independent of actual space with portals (exits) which gave access to small areas, which might as well have been disconnected from each other by other means.

However, at some level she was right, limited access roads are a challenge to us "spatials" unless you know all of the exits. And when I later moved to Pittsburgh, I realized that the third-dimension could screw you up as well and at times lead to "follow-your-nose because I know it is close" driving disasters. (For instance I live near one of the bluffs along one of the rivers and my "block" is basically an elongated jagged piece of land "penetrated" by many dead-ends and which is several miles in circumference.)

I will also say that the thing I find most astonishing about the main online maps is that they seem to have rid themselves of many of the "paper" streets that plagued so many paper maps for so long (I grew up next to what was shown on maps as a great little connector if it had only existed, and redirected many a befuddled motorist in my youth. It stayed on maps for years and years.)

I second the absolute requirement for online mapping in Pittsburgh.

Taking a bird's eye view of Pittsburgh is a most costly mental endeavor. You can often see where it is you need to get to. You may even be able to walk it in under 30 minutes (that is, if you're not separated by a river or multi-level freeway). But just pointing your car in the right direction may result in your being further displaced from your desired endpoint by endles miles, hours, and stress. Ah, the bridges, tunnels, rivers, one-ways, mountains...it's too much for a mere mortal. Left to your own devices, you're liable to end up across a bridge or through a tunnel heading in the complete opposite direction you had been attempting to travel. It's better just to plug and chug (the way you're told not to do in undergraduate physics classes). Enter your starting point and destination and let Mapquest do the planning for you.

Oh, for a city on a grid...

I second the absolute requirement for online mapping in Pittsburgh.

Taking a bird's eye view of Pittsburgh is a most costly mental endeavor. You can often see where it is you need to get to. You may even be able to walk it in under 30 minutes (that is, if you're not separated by a river or multi-level freeway). But just pointing your car in the right direction may result in your being further displaced from your desired endpoint by endles miles, hours, and stress. Ah, the bridges, tunnels, rivers, one-ways, mountains...it's too much for a mere mortal. Left to your own devices, you're liable to end up across a bridge or through a tunnel heading in the complete opposite direction you had been attempting to travel. It's better just to plug and chug (the way you're told not to do in undergraduate physics classes). Enter your starting point and destination and let Mapquest do the planning for you.

Oh, for a city on a grid...

[navigating Pittsburgh = teh hard.]

One of the interesting features of Pittsburgh is the number of steps, many of them legal "streets" - one more thing the online mappers had to identify and remove. Captured nicely in The Steps of Pittsburgh, Portrait of a City.
One city,
712 sets of steps,
44,645 treads
24,108 vertical feet.

I own a copy and it is a great little gem. Of course other cities have steps as well, but...

San Franciscans like to boast about their steps and consider them a top tourist attraction, but they "only" have 350 sets. Cincinnatians do the same, but claim a mere 400.

One "study" I always wanted to do (and it is probably feasible these days) was to define a "hilliness" factor for a city. I have two methods in mind:
1) Overall hilliness. Put a suitably dense grid of points over the city and estimate the slope at each point.
2) Street hilliness. Take a random sample of street locations and measure the gradient along the street (always less than or equal to the slope of the ground.)

Having lived in Houston, I might be close to having experienced the alpha and omega of those metrics within the US. (New Orleans probably has Houston beat ... but not by much.)

I love having Google Maps to suggest route for me, but I still always consult the big spiral-bound map book and bring it with me wherever I go. There are three main reasons I do this: First, if I miss a turn or make some other mistake while following Google directions, I'm doomed if I don't have some access to a map of the area as a backup; I spent half an hour looking for a restaurant one time because I thought, "Well, I've got the Google directions. Why would I need a real map?" Second, getting a view of the entire street map at once really helps cement my understanding of the route and improves my ability to follow it. While Google Maps and portable GPS units and the like can show me the approximate shape of a given route, the number of streets on display for immediate perusal is never as high as it is with paper maps.

What I really want is something with all of the functionality of a portable GPS unit and the resolution and display size of a big spiral-bound map book. Obviously, said device should cost about $300 and be the same size and weight as a map book. I'm not holding my breath.

My strategy is to use Google Maps without its route-choosing capability -- basically just as a paper map with searchability and a good UI. On the road, I use paper maps and have no difficulty translating between the two, and my mental geography hasn't suffered noticeably.

If I were to use a API platform, I certinaly would not use Google as the free one does not include advances Geocoding menaing the accuracy is poor. There is also no sla , support or rights of service.

The directions are poor, the coverage for Ireland and Geocoding is almost childlike and the privacy stinks. No professional business would use a google mapping solution.

They copy everyone else's idea, say they are there own and get loads of press (they only added tube stations in 2006) an dcyclc lanes (2010), viamichelin added these 2006 and Traffic in 2009 !

Any agency or developers looking for an API should stick to Bing or ViaMichelin for better customisation and user experience which is killer !

By Johny Adams (not verified) on 07 Apr 2010 #permalink