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The 8-year-old Google Maps is getting a bold re-design as online mapping becomes more personalized, interactive and mobile. We examine the different ways mapping data is generated and explore the move toward 3-D, real-time maps that track your location and push out information before you ask for it.
- Jonah Jones Lead designer for Google Maps
- Eric Gundersen CEO, MapBox
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MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's "Tech Tuesday." For most of human history, maps have been largely static, prepared by someone else to describe the location of oceans, streets, stores in a mall, buried treasure. Now, a new generation of digital maps is shifting that paradigm. Online maps are becoming interactive and customized for each user based on your location, your interest, and the data you provide in real time.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIImagine, for instance, going bar hopping with a digital map that shows you nearby watering holes and then updates itself as the night wears on and some of the bars close. In that spirit, Google is slowly rolling out a major redesign of its Google Maps, incorporating 3D and satellite imaging. And turning maps into search platforms that can push out information before you ask for it. Another company, D.C. based MapBox, is using crowd sourced location data to build customized maps that can be embedded into apps like Pinterest. But this new generation of maps, fueled increasingly by personal data, is raising new questions about privacy. And joining us to discuss all of this is Eric Gundersen. He is the CEO of MapBox. Eric, good to see you again.
MR. ERIC GUNDERSENHey, good to see you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us from studios at KQED radio in San Francisco is Jonah Jones, lead designer for Google Maps. Jonah, thank you for joining us.
MR. JONAH JONESHey. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call. 800-433-8850. What would you like the next generation of online maps to show you? 800-433-8850. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or shoot us a tweet at kojoshow. Eric, the next generation of maps will put users in control rather than this -- just serving us something static. These maps will be able to change in real time to give us the most up to date information. Give us a few examples, if you will. How might, say, runners use a map that could show their speed? Or bar hoppers use a map that changes as the night wears on?
GUNDERSENYeah, I know. I mean, your point is every app needs a custom map. If you're going running, do you really want to know where the highways are? No. Actually, you want to see where the running trails are.
GUNDERSENMaybe hop over and you're going biking tomorrow, though. Hop over to a biking app, show where those bike trails are. Now, you're going out at night. You're gonna wanna actually see not locations where there's water fountains, when you're going for a run. You're gonna actually wanna see where the bars are. What bars are open. What bars have your friends gone to? And the entire mapping space is starting to become incredibly custom. Everybody is gonna need their own map, designed exactly how they want it.
NNAMDIEverything personalized. Jonah, talk about the concept of having a cartographer in your pocket. Of creating maps that push information out to you without your having to ask.
JONESYeah, a cartographer in your pocket is a really good way of describing it. Because, I think, you know, in the olden days of mapping, every map told a different story, and, you know, the cartographer would kind of build the map for whatever purpose, you know, the sponsor of that map was interested in. And then people ended up doing these regular maps that are kind of fit for every single purpose, so they have to be a map that anyone can use for any purpose in the world. But what that means is it's not specifically tailored for any one purpose.
JONESSo in the first era of online mapping, what we basically did was took these generic maps and then put them online and let you explore them and drag them, which is really cool. But what we're starting to be able to do now, with new technology, is actually build these maps and make them fit for different purposes. So, now with the new technology we've got in Google Maps, you can, when you click on a place, then we can draw a map specifically for that place. And also, you know, when I log in, and when you log in, because of different data that we may have provided about the places that we've saved or if I've entered my home location or my work location, my map might look a little bit different to yours.
JONESSo that makes it a lot more useful and customized to you.
NNAMDIEric, explain the maps you're working on that respond to users' environment, to show features they're more interested in, like ski slopes or golf courses or the hills in San Francisco.
GUNDERSENYeah, everybody pulls up a custom, like, apps are siloed, right? When you -- that's the point of them. You want a really unique experience, so when you're going golfing, you're gonna open up your golf app and immediately see how many yards it is. Having that map with a fresh satellite image over top of it, that's a unique experience that you wanna have really focus. You don't wanna have the noise around there. And that's kind of like where we fit in. Like, at MapBox, we're actually just targeting developers. We don't have an end user product that you can go to, like Google.
GUNDERSENDevelopers come to us, build a crazy map, and then put that map inside their app. So, for example, you know, if you go and pin something on Pinterest, all those maps, beautiful, crazy, custom cartography. That's designed in a way that fits with Pinterest's brand. But that's all powered by MapBox. Or like Uber, sharing the ETA features. We were coming up over here. You know, that black car is driving across the gray map, but that gray map's powered by MapBox. So, we're like, everybody's getting to the point where they need something incredibly clean and custom, designed exactly for their brand, matching their exact experience.
NNAMDISo, a runner could get a map that changes color based on how fast that runner is running. A runner can get a map showing the line of that runner's route, getting wider or thinner, based on the runner's heart rate.
GUNDERSENYeah, so this is where the tech's going. Being able to dynamically render, on the fly, and have these maps be responsive. Right? Everything's becoming a sensor. The maps need to start being able to respond to what's coming off your phone. So, plugging in your heart rate monitor to that -- that makes it -- you start getting more context. And think about what this is going to mean for wearables, right? You're gonna look down at your watch, or look out your eyeglasses, and you're gonna start seeing not just the actual map, but other context around the map.
GUNDERSENIt's just gonna feel so natural.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the next generation of online maps. This is a "Tech Tuesday" conversation. We're inviting you to join by calling 800-433-8850. If you could build your own interactive map, what would it do? Give us a call. 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. We're talking with Eric Gundersen. He is the CEO of MapBox. And Jonah Jones is lead designer for Google Maps. Jonah, you led the redesign of Google Maps that's slowly rolling out right now. Why did you decide to approach it as if you were starting Google Maps from scratch? And what were the goals for the redesign?
JONESSo, yeah, Google Maps launched eight years ago, and many, many things have happened since then, so we've got these amazing new features like street view, for example, that let you see what the world looks like from a street level. You know, mobile's come along, of course. Eight years ago, there was not really such a thing. I mean, everyone was doing things on desktop. And also, new technologies have come along. So, we really wanted to kind of imagine that we were building them up again -- building this application from scratch.
JONESAnd reinventing expectations of what an online map could be. So, we ended up coming up with three core concepts. And one is that the map is built for you every single time. And that's what we were speaking about a little bit before, which is there are a billion different people using this. And it could look a little bit different for every one of those. But there's also a billion places on the map. And it could be that the map -- when you click on or search for a restaurant is not quite the same as the one when you look for a national park or a museum, or something like that.
JONESThe second thing is that we've collected all of this incredible imagery, so we've got street view, we've got underwater imagery, we've got satellite view. You can even go up into space. And we really wanted to make it really, really easy and immersive and fun to explore all of this imagery. And the third thing is that we came up with this concept that the map is the user interface. So, before, we've had all of these different amazing functionality, but people were finding it quite difficult to discover this stuff, because a lot of it had, you know, its own custom buttons and menus.
JONESAnd there was just too UI on the screen. User Interface, that we call it. So, we really wanted to flip that around and make the map the user interface itself. So, now the map is the main feature of the product, and, you know, as you click and you interact with the map, that is how it dynamically changes to help you with your task.
NNAMDIAnd I'm glad about that, because I've always described myself as a map illiterate, or map sub-literate, and when I tried it out this morning, I found that I could actually understand it and use it. Jonah, the new Earth Door feature shows aerial 3D images of the Earth. How did you design this feature and how do you think people will use it?
JONESSo, this kind of feature that we have is really interesting, because obviously it looks really, really cool, which is always great. But it helps people discover new places in the world, that maybe they would never have got a chance to discover before. So, a good example is when I first started working for Google, about seven years ago. I'm from London, originally. You can probably tell from my accent.
GUNDERSENRelieved to hear it.
NNAMDIIt doesn't give you away at all.
JONESI moved to Zurich, and I was living there. And I went back to my family's house over Christmas, and my grandmother was there. And she was getting quite old, and she wasn't able to travel anymore. And she'd never been to Switzerland. But I was able to pull up Google Maps on my laptop and actually take her to a virtual drive around where I lived and where I worked and some of the cool places. And so it was amazing that she actually got to virtually explore the place where I lived, even without leaving this living room in London. And that was really, really powerful.
JONESBut as well as enabling people to visit places that they may never get to go, it can also inspire them to visit new places that they may actually end up visiting physically, as well. So, we think it can kind of be very, kind of, helpful in letting you plan out and discover what an area looks like, but also very aspirational, in terms of helping you explore the world, both virtually and physically.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. We'll start with John in Fairfax, Virginia. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNGood morning. I wondered if the -- your guests could comment on my use of something called Wikimapia, which is I presume he's familiar with. I've been using it. It's a -- it's based on Google Earth, I believe. In any case, I've been using it for disaster planning and communications and logistics, and it's basically easier to use than Google Maps, cause you can draw objects on the Earth at will. That's what the wiki part of Wikimapia is. Are there open source apps that work on a wiki kind of foundation?
JONESSo, we actually have a couple of things here. We have our mapmaker product, which lets people go and users can come in and edit Google Maps directly, themselves. So they can add missing features or change or edit things that might be wrong. We also have a product called Google Maps Engine. And that lets you create custom maps just for yourself, or to share with different people in your friends. Like, these disaster maps is a perfect example of that. So, we have a couple of different products that enable you to edit the map, either for public or for private consumption.
JONESBut, you know, the main product of Google Maps is very, very focused on being a consumer product and very easy to use. So, we've been quite careful not to overload it with too many editing functionality right there within the app.
NNAMDIAnd John, I should have Eric Gundersen explain what MapBox does, because MapBox uses their platform to create for -- so that clients can create their own maps.
GUNDERSENYeah. And there are two parts of the map creation, right? As Jonah was saying, like, they're getting all this rich data. And John's saying, hey, I'm going in and tracing this data. Where does the data come from and who owns it? So, what's cool about our maps is you can go in to OpenStreetMap. It's just like Wikipedia for maps. And start tracing a road here, a building here, or upload your GPS tracks. Whatever.
GUNDERSENSo, it's really easy to just add data to the map. And so the whole world has started being mapped. Just last month, over 20,000 people went and added data to OpenStreetMap. And the quality there is incredible. And so the map, every day, is being updated. So, we're listening to this data feed coming in. Every two minutes that there's a change, and then we're pushing it back up and out on our maps. And then, what's neat is that no company owns this data. It's totally free and open. So, anybody has incentive to start contributing, and then being able to manipulate the data on their own and do other stuff with it. So, it's not just data for MapBox. It's data for you, it's data for everybody.
NNAMDIMakes a whole lot of sense to people like John. John, thank you very much for your call. Jonah, explain the roll out of the new Google Maps. Users can opt in to try the redesigned maps if they're logged in to their Google account. But the default for most people is still the original version. Why the slow switch to the redesign?
JONESYeah, so, as I mentioned before, you know, this is the most major redesign we've done of Google Maps since we originally launched, eight years ago. And we take our user feedback very, very seriously. So, we wanted to be very gradual and listen to users and find out how they're using it. So, we initially do something we called dogfooding, internally, at Google, which is the idea that you eat your own dog food. So, we've been kind of testing it and using it internally, within Google, for a few months. And we've done a few, kind of, usability studies and things.
JONESBut then when we announced it in Google IO in May, we made it an invite model, so we could invite you to come in and try these features. Then we switched to an open opt in model, which means that anybody that wanted to could kind of press a button and experience the new Google Maps, which is the period we're in at the moment. And now, gradually, we're gonna start rolling this out as the default experience for people as they log in. But the user feedback that we've had over the last few months has been incredibly valuable.
JONESSo, we've readded a couple of missing features that we didn't get a chance to rebuild. And we've also added some brand new stuff, and we've made massive improvements to speed and a bunch of other things, so, yeah, the gradual introduction is all about getting user feedback and making sure this is a really useful and well appreciated product.
NNAMDIWe've gotta take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you'd like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. Which online mapping service or app do you use and why? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet at kojoshow or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our "Tech Tuesday" conversation on the next generation of online maps. Our guests are Eric Gundersen. He is CEO of MapBox. And Jonah Jones, lead designer for Google Maps. You, too, can participate in this discussion by calling 800-433-8850. Let's go to Chris in McLean, Virginia. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHey, thanks, Kojo. I have a question more on how could this application or series of applications be used in an interior setting rather than exterior? For example, in a large corporate campus, for example, if you wanted to find where there were, perhaps, available conference rooms that weren't full, if you're coming in as a visitor. Where would those be? Or where would your teammates be? Have you guys thought about interacting with any of the computer aided facility kind of programs that are out there and linking in your services to that?
GUNDERSENYeah, indoor mapping is becoming just huge. Like, your ability to walk into a large convention center and have that map dynamically adjust, depending on what week it is, right? Floor plans change a lot. In more established settings, like if you're gonna walk into, like a mall, having that all mapped out and be responsive, cause you can start walking around with this indoor wifi that starts triangulating where you are. So, you can literally see yourself moving around the map inside the building. There are a lot of cool app makers trying to push into that space and start having a more guided shopping experience.
JONESYeah, so, indoors are super interesting area, at the moment. Google actually have quite a lot of indoor business information for public buildings, so things like shopping malls and airports. And we actually have all of the indoor plans. We can see the individual rooms. You can see where the bathrooms are or where the escalators are. You can change between floors. So, yeah, we're very actively mapping public indoor spaces, because that's very, very useful for people to be able to navigate.
JONESAnd we also have indoor business photos, as well. So, just as we have street view for outdoors, businesses can invite us in to take photos, or upload their own photos, so that you can get a preview of how the restaurant or how the bar or how the museum might look from inside. So, in terms of both imagery and cartography, we're really focusing heavily on indoor.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. We got an email from Joe in Baltimore. He says, is anyone developing apps that create crowd source maps for health issues, specifically hearing. Have all those smart phones have little sensors called mics that could easily measure decibels. That data could be mapped and made public, telling us which places and clubs are dangerously loud, based on actual data. Eric?
GUNDERSENThe most impressive example is wheelmap.org. It started in Germany, where you can go in and actually show all the handicap accessible entranceways to buildings. So you know which way to enter on what corner to go into. And it's just exploded. So, and the way this works is when you go and add something, like you can go and draw a box around a building. You can also put in other details, saying, hey, this is a building. This is an office building. The name of this office building is IBM. And it's handicapped accessible.
GUNDERSENSo, as you start putting in additional data, just kind of like free typing like that, then you can start showing on the map, let me highlight all the handicapped accessible Starbucks right here. That's really powerful.
NNAMDIAnd that means you can also include data that has to do with the noise levels in that building.
GUNDERSENIt's almost like an infinite level of classification. So, think about how much detail you gotta put into a golf course. Hey, this is a green. This is a fairway. This is a sand trap. All of that are just drawing polygons and then adding data to that, saying what it is. And then it's on the design side. This is where the cartography comes in. The designer then says, hey, I want sand traps to actually look like sand. Or, you start playing with data from Mars. It doesn't just have to be red. A colleague of mine, Chris, paints the entire planet this crazy psychedelic green.
GUNDERSENSo, being able to have access to the raw data allows people to just design really, really fun, sometimes weird stuff.
NNAMDIWell, brings me to this question, Jonah. Talk about the design challenges you faced in recreating Google Maps. There's so much information, as Eric was just pointing out, that could now be included. So, how do you come up with a map that's both informative and uncluttered enough to be useful?
JONESYeah, I mean, that's a particularly tough challenge. The way I normally explain this is if you imagine zooming in to the very, very deepest and most detailed level, you know, everything that we know about the world could be surfaced, which is, you know, every tiny little walking trail. Every business, every park. Everything that we know. And then, as you start zooming out, all of these labels and these features will start to overlap and collide, and then you need to make sure that you're showing the right ones.
JONESSo, we have a whole lot of secret source at Google, kind of to rank each one of these places, so that we can say, OK, this restaurant on the corner is much, much more well known and well rated than, perhaps, the coffee shop next to it. So, the restaurant should win once you're starting to zoom out. And then the same thing for different streets in different cities, and that kind of thing. But, you know, the challenge has got even more interesting now, because it used to be just that we would, as we mentioned before, building the same app for everybody, so you could make these decisions in a static basis.
JONESBut now, if you're logged in, and we know that you've given us your home and your work location, we know that those things matter to you. And it could be that those things matter to you more than, you know, even the most famous restaurant on the corner. So, we need to kind of take signals that we know from the real world, but also signals that we know that you care about because you've decided to save places. Just to decide what to draw in a way that's not too cluttered and can keep you focused on the things that you care about without distracting you with lots of other information.
NNAMDISame question to you, Eric.
GUNDERSENYeah, right? I mean, you look at something like Foursquare. You can get data out of that, and then you can see how many people check in, how often, and you use that as a score. At this zoom level, cause a lot of people check in, I want to show that. So, as you start diving deeper into the map, you can see more, when you have more real estate to see more. But when you're farther out, you see what's popular. Or, back to having more customized experiences, if you're pulling up a map at night, just show what's open. We're moving past dots on the map.
GUNDERSENYou should really just be able to see, baked right into the map, the name of the bar and, hey, you just ran a search for bars? Show some other bars and restaurants around there. And start just being oriented into what you want and having these maps respond to you.
NNAMDIOn to Jack in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Jack, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACKHi. You've talked about maps which are kind of locked into geography. We've been working on a map that is about future technologies, so that you can actually predict, when someone puts in a technology, you can actually predict the value of the future technology. Going way out in years by being able to associatively search the map and then find new technologies. You can also find out who's working on those technologies. None of it's geographically located, but it is a virtual map, and it's also useful for categorizations of other kinds.
JACKIt provides for information hiding, as you've been mentioning. But, the main point of it is to take some categorization structure, build a map from it, allow crowd sourced update of it, and refine the predictive nature of it.
NNAMDIWhy is it a map on not a kind of virtual index?
JACKWell, it is a virtual index. You're absolutely right. The main point of an index is to help you figure out where external data is, as well. But the indexing ability of something is limited if you don't share it well and if you can't update it and refine it. But, the real important thing is that it gives you a predictive ability once you index something, because you have something akin to causality, which can give you kind of a statistical basis.
NNAMDIOkay. Interested in commenting on that, Jonah?
JONESYeah. I mean, it is, the idea of related places is very, very interesting. And it's actually something that we have built into the new Google Maps, as well. So, one of the examples we gave at the IO key note, which is quite a nice one, is that in San Francisco, there's this museum, that temporarily escapes me. That's funny. But anyway, it's on a small kind of back street that you can only access. It's a very minor road. And so, normally, what we do, you know, if we're looking at the map of San Francisco, is we'll draw the major highways and the major arterial roads.
JONESBut we won't necessarily label all of these tiny little back streets. And so, when you click and you search for this museum, suddenly, the tiny little minor street that leads up to that museum is very important. So, we changed the map a little bit to make it more like the map you might draw on the back of a napkin for a person, for a friend, if you're explaining how to get there. And we make sure that that tiny little minor street is highlighted and labeled. But, the other interesting thing we do, as well as building a map for that place, is we can find related places. So, whereas normally on the map, maybe you're gonna have some kind of generic points of interest and landmarks about restaurants and parks and that kind of thing.
JONESIf you've shown interest in museums by searching for or clicking on this museum, suddenly the landmarks can change and be slightly tilted towards museums, and so you might see other interesting museums like the Exploratorium or the Walt Disney Family Museum, amongst all of the others on the map. So, it basically lets us explore related places, kind of like you would if you, you know, when you search and you find a nice video on YouTube, and then you see related videos. This lets you explore the map in a similar way, by kind of clicking and then related places show up and then you can click some more and click some more and go on pretty much an adventure.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Jane who says, you should talk about how open source mapping, developed by the Red Cross, drove humanitarian response to the recent hurricane in the Philippines. And, of course, that was reported. But, Eric, one of the bigger challenges in mapping is collecting the data. Street names, business names, country names are changing all the time. MapBox uses open source data from OpenStreetMap, which is the Wikipedia is, of mapping. How does OpenStreetMap work?
GUNDERSENYep. There are two ways to get data. You can go to OpenStreetMap.org, just go in and sign in, and immediately, the full screen map and you go to anywhere in the world, and can see satellite imagery behind it. And you say, hey, let me draw in this road, or let me go put in these buildings. What the volunteers working with the Red Cross did, on OpenStreetMap, was amazing. Within hours, as the storm's hitting, they're looking at where the storm track hit, what towns got effected, and zoomed in, and started quickly tracing where the buildings are. Next day, they go back, there's new imagery from drones and small satellites passing over. They look at what the damage is.
GUNDERSENThey go back in and start classifying what buildings were damaged. Immediately, the Red Cross has access to up to date maps and can start seeing the difference over time. It's actually that easy to go in and put data on a map.
NNAMDIIf I looked at OpenStreetMap and it did not have the name of my street, how would I add it?
GUNDERSENYou would see the street, you click on it, and a little box comes up, and you just type it and hit return. And then it's going to be like, so, what did you add? And it's like, I added my street name. And last month, 20,000 people did just that. They put in areas around where they work, where they live, or you see a lot of volunteer efforts. I mean, the work in Haiti was also incredible. There was a real time entry. In three days, you just see the city just become totally traced.
GUNDERSENSo you can -- you know, a product like OpenStreetMap is really exciting in many other parts of the world, that don't actually have commercial interest. You know, cause mapping's really expensive, and you start getting to this point where actually owning the data might not be the real valuable part. It's more like providing the service on top. And data can be all open. That's really where some of the magic of OpenStreetMap starting to...
NNAMDIOpenStreetMap is an open source mapping site that works like Wikipedia. Anyone can go in, make changes, updates, edits. How do you work with the OpenStreetMap community to create your mapping platform?
GUNDERSENWhat we do is, you know, we're part of the community. We, you know, we started, as you mentioned, right here in D.C., working along with NGO's. So there we are in certain countries that just weren't on the map. So, we'd go in and start helping add data. More recently, we've gone in and we built the new editor interface that you can go and trace roads and add buildings. We work on the website. And so it's a really collective community project where, I mean, it's a nonprofit. It has no commercial interest. It's a spot for great data.
GUNDERSENAnd that means any company can come along, or any individual can come along and grab the data and make their own stuff with it.
NNAMDIOpenStreetMap has some one and a half million active users, correct?
GUNDERSENYeah. And what -- I mean, the important part of that number is how many people are really going in and adding data. Last year, there was 124,000 people added data. That's 25 percent more than (word?). Right? Like, last month, that's -- we're now on 20,000 people adding data. All over the world. The ability to be responsive when something happens to a storm, or the ability to go into a certain new market and quickly pop up on the map. We're getting all excited about the World Cup coming to Brazil.
GUNDERSENAnd so, starting to look at some of the cities down there and what the coverage is. And starting to talk to the government down there. OK, cool, if it's not on the map, you can put it on the map. And if you put it on the map, you own that data. It's open.
NNAMDIAnd I can find it. 800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join the conversation. If you have called, stay on the line. We will get to your calls. If you call and the lines are busy, you can shoot us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. How do you use online maps, and on which devices? Allow me to go to Nancy in Washington, D.C. Nancy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NANCYHi. I'm a real estate agent, and it seems to me that this facility to see what you're looking for, in terms of purchasing a house, would be fantastic. You could see what was open on a Sunday. You could see what houses were in the same price range as the one you were headed to look at. I think there could be incredible use in that particular area.
NNAMDIAnd I'm pretty sure that somebody else has already thought of that, Nancy.
NNAMDIKnow anything about that at all, Eric?
GUNDERSENWell, one of our favorite users is StreetEasy. Right? They started up in New York. And the reason they were using MapBox, they wanted to control the label placement of the neighborhoods, right? I mean, every realtor out there and every home buyer knows how important neighborhood is to property value, right?
GUNDERSENSo being able to really place that right in on the map and then, what else, they added gyms, and they added transit stops that they wanted to highlight. These are decision factor -- quality of life factors that they saw from usage of their site that they wanted to put on the map. And because they could control the data that goes on that map, they were able to have those kind of editing tools. And the end user is just like, wow, this is just simple. I see exactly where it is and what's around.
NNAMDINancy, thank you very much for your call. Jonah, Google has a different approach to data. You mostly collect your own. How do you gather the data that you use in your maps?
JONESYeah. So we have over a thousand different sources of data that we collect things from, including, you know, the satellite imagery that we do, that we drive Street View cars around so we can pick up data from there. And we also enable users to directly and actively contribute by adding and editing the data in Map Maker. Or just we have a feature called Report a Problem, so if you're on your mobile phone, you can give it a shake, or there's also a button you can press on the desktop app.
JONESAnd that lets you report an issue. And then we have people go and take a look and validate that issue and fix it for you. So we have a wide variety of sources that we're using to keep the map up to date. And that's really very important because, you know, every year, 25 percent of businesses open or close, which means that, you know, even if today you get a perfect snapshot of the world, by this time next year, 25 percent of that stuff is going to be wrong.
JONESSo it's very, very important to keep moving. And then we always say our biggest competitor is actually the real world. So, yeah, very important to keep up to date on this stuff.
NNAMDIYeah. Your biggest competitor being the real world is appropriate because one of the challenges in keeping maps accurate is, how do you deal with the rapid turnover, say, of businesses? And why did you introduce your product called Map Makers?
JONESYeah, so absolutely, you know, we used to be buying in data from the third party providers. And that was great, but it meant that we couldn't actually -- if we knew about a business that opened or closed or a road that had changed, we weren't actually able to rapidly fix these things. And so that was when we started our effort called Ground Truth where we would actually go and start generating and creating our own map data.
JONESAnd since we now have that launched and over 200 countries in the world has enabled us to be much, much more responsive and fast in making sure that the map is up to date and dynamic, so that's been a really, really important effort for us.
NNAMDIAnd that's what Catherine in Tacoma Park, Md., I think, wants to talk about. Catherine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CATHERINEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Yes. We've had this issue in our neighborhood where we have had road construction that has closed off roads. And as much as we try to get information out to the neighborhood, there's all these people who drive through and just don't know what to do. And so they're going -- not going on the proper detours.
CATHERINEThey're going, you know, through our neighborhoods. And the question is, you know, how do I make sure that that happens quickly, that it gets into Google Maps and it gets into people's GPSes so that they actually will take the proper detours and quickly, not months later?
NNAMDIQuestion for both of you. First you, Jonah.
JONESSure. So one of the big things that we've done over the last few months is integrated data from Waze, which gives you very up-to-date and accurate traffic information. So Waze is like a crowdsourced traffic application, so it means that people can dynamically report roads that are closed. So one way that might happen is if someone tries to go along that road and discovers it's closed, they can add that in Waze. And Waze will report that this road is closed.
JONESBut the other way, if this is going to be a more long-term thing, as I mentioned before, you can either shake your mobile phone, or you can report on the Report a Problem button within Google Maps and just report that that road is closed. And one of our moderators will come back and very quickly edit that for you. Or you can just go and log directly into Map Maker and change that yourself. So we have a variety of ways for users to go and actively take a part in maintaining the accuracy of their local data.
GUNDERSENWhen the Moore tornado passed through...
GUNDERSEN...NPR came out with a map, showing the before and after. And the roads on top of it were coming from OpenStreetMap. So within minutes, as people started getting fresh imagery coming in, they started changing the classifications of the roads. And you could actually see what was on top of the bad imagery -- or better said, the new imagery showing how bad the destruction was. You could actually see the road classification start changing, so you knew what was shut down.
GUNDERSENSo being able to have your system be really fast to update, it's huge. But, I mean, the future of customer routing, this is really exciting. I mean, what if you -- been working with this scooter company in San Francisco. It's kind of like Zipcar for scooters. And they're electric-powered. The problem with that, the hills in San Francisco, right?
GUNDERSENWhat if you could route around that? What if you start giving hills a certain score where, when you go up, that's bad or -- I mean, what if you're an electric car company? You want to give the score a little differently. So if you're going down the hill, that's actually good for you to not just -- what's your shortest route or fastest route? What's your most energy-efficient route? And all of this is going to play big into make it custom for your exact app.
NNAMDICatherine, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. If you would like to call, the number's 800-433-8850. Do you worry about your privacy in a world where digital maps can follow you wherever you go? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Shoot us an email to email@example.com or a tweet, @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday, and we're talking about the next generation of online maps with Jonah Jones, lead designer for Google Maps. He joins us from studios at KQED radio in San Francisco. Here in our Washington studio is Eric Gundersen. He is CEO of MapBox. We go now to -- oh, we had a call about privacy.
NNAMDIBut D.J. left, so I'll ask the call -- ask the question myself. One of the concerns about maps that use cell phone location data and street view photos is privacy. Google has already had issues with its street view images. Will these new personalized maps be one more encroachment, if you will, on our privacy, Jonah Jones?
JONESSure. So the thing that we're focused on in Google is making sure that we provide a product that's very, very useful and beneficial to our users. And so if you are logged in and the more information you can provide, the more value we'll be able to give to you. So a great example is if I look at the map that I have of San Francisco, I've entered my home and my work location. And this is great because it means that if I click on a restaurant or a bar or a museum, then immediately Google Maps can tell me how far it is to get to this place from my home location.
JONESSo that just saves me one step of having to constantly enter that and get directions. And then it also -- another example is in a week, I'm going to be flying to Mexico for my vacation. And so because I have the itinerary was sent to me in my Gmail, then I can look at San Francisco Airport. And not only does it give me the information that everyone sees about San Francisco Airport, but it also tells me what time my flight's leaving. And I might be able to find out if there's going to be bad traffic going there.
JONESAnd then also, as I'm kind of browsing the map and I'm clicking around the different restaurants, I can see which places that my friends have rated and reviewed. So it's all about providing extra value to people. And also, if you're logged in, you have the ability to -- you know, I can enter information on my desktop, and then very seamlessly I can open my mobile phone. And it has the exact same information shared perfectly between that. So we're just making sure that we're focused on, when somebody's logged in, providing real value to them.
NNAMDIYour thoughts on the privacy issue, Eric Gundersen?
GUNDERSENYeah, Jonah's spot on. This is about opting in and then making sure that app developers are sharing with you what only you want and not sharing that with the whole world. This is -- the maps, by being responsive, are just making your life easier and providing more context. So it's just it really is just a helpful thing. We are not saying privacy issues.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Nate in Washington who says, "Will the new Google Maps be able to add layers of other apps? For example, could Google Maps coordinate with the Capital Bikeshare map so that I could add the Bikeshare station data on top of my Google Maps instead of opening a separate applications? Or could it add the Ward map" -- D.C., of course, is a city, Jonah, that's divided into eight wards -- "Or could it add the Ward map of D.C. as an overlay to the regular map?"
JONESSo there's a variety of approaches you can take if you want to overlay your own custom data. One is that we have over a million websites in the world that are using the Google Maps API. And that basically means that, from within your website, you can embed a copy of Google Maps, and then you can add your own information on top of that to provide that to users. Another is that we have -- the one that I mentioned before.
JONESWe have Google Maps Engine. And that lets you add custom overlays on top of the map so that you can create a very, very customized map. And you can change the styles of the map and decide what labels to show and what not. And then you can either share that publicly or share it privately within friends or just keep it just for yourself.
JONESAnd then, of course, we also have Map Maker, so if you really want to be able to add the data for everybody in the world to see, to be part of the Google base map, you can do that as well. So we have a variety of ways that you can contribute data and then decide where the most appropriate way to share that is.
NNAMDIEric, we got an email from Peggy who says, "Do you have any suggestions about what software to use to build and distribute walking tours, or what details to highlight or eliminate when building a historic walking tour? I'm in the process of doing a walking tour of Civil War hospital sites in Alexandria, Va."
GUNDERSENOh, that's cool. So being able to -- I mean, kind of like you were talking to Jonah about before, you want to just show a couple key features, right? So being able to load up a tool -- our tool is called TileMill. It's a map design studio. And you're able to say, hey, I just want to highlight these key roads that go between the tour spots. And I want to put it on a really custom icon that matches each tour spot.
GUNDERSENAnd making all that interactive is really hard. I mean, back to the old days in making maps, you know, you saw it on a piece of paper. Now, you zoom in. You pan around. Like, you have to make these multi-dimensional. And the software to do that's really -- traditionally, really hard. And TileMill's really trying to change that to allow anybody to be a cartographer.
NNAMDIOn to Hester in Cheverly, Md. Hester, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HESTERHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I was recently in a car accident, and I was hoping to use the Prince George's County's bus system to get around. But I haven't found a single mapping service which has the bus schedules in it or routes. The Prince -- sorry, the Prince George's County bus system is called The Bus.
NNAMDIAnd you haven't been able to find any system any place that can provide you with a map of the bus routes for the Prince George's County busing system?..
HESTERNope, not with schedules, not interacting. I've written the county council, haven't gotten anywhere.
NNAMDI'Course, Jonah's way out in San Francisco, but is that a service that Google would provide, Jonah?
JONESYeah. I mean, public transit is very, very important to us. And we've actually had public transit information in the product for -- yeah, since I've joined, really, so, like, kind of seven years ago. It was the first product that I worked on. So we have agreements with cities. And they can provide the information to us, and we'll share it for them on Google Maps for free. So we have live transit information in many, many cities like New York and Salt Lake City. We have over a million public transit stops worldwide across 800 cities.
JONESBut, of course, there are also some less prominent or, you know, less popular facilities that we don't yet have.
NNAMDIWell, Hester, have you contacted or called the transit authority in Prince George's County about that?
HESTERI called my county council woman. It's not on Google Maps. I looked you guys up. You have a really simple system that uploads things. I was just wondering, is there something a citizen can do when their government isn't responsive this way?
NNAMDIWell, I think the call to your council woman was the first step. You might want to organize more calls to council members because you seem to be dealing with a political issue right there. And people do respond to voters and constituents. That's the best advice I can offer you, Hester. But good luck to you.
NNAMDIJonah, when we zoom in close on a map, it's possible to show all the streets and businesses. But as we zoom out, some of the name labels have to disappear because they don't all fit. How do algorithms decide what street names or business names to keep and which ones to drop as the view of the map changes, Jonah?
JONESYeah. We spoke a little bit about that earlier. So...
NNAMDIYes, I do remember you mentioned that.
JONES...there are a ton of different signals that go into this. And, you know, the crudest possible signals are that we understand that there are these different categorizations of roads. So you can say that there's a, you know, a minor footpath, or there's local roads, there's arterial roads that kind of connect to the local roads to the highways.
JONESThere's the highways themselves. So we can kind of give things a crude rank based on saying that highways are more important than arterial roads which are more important than local roads and then decide, you know, if -- if it's a choice between showing the local road and the arterial, then the arterial will win.
JONESAnd we can do the same thing with local businesses as well, so we can say, you know, we know how many people have done a Google web search for a given business or how many Wikipedia articles have been written about the business or how many reviews the business has. And we put all of these signals together and try and give every single business and every park and every road and everything a different score.
JONESAnd then we use that score to determine where things should -- you know, at what zoom level things should show up and if there's a conflict, which one should win. But as I mentioned before, it gets a little bit more challenging once you start taking your custom information into account and also the information on the place that you've clicked. So whereas, you know, in the museum example I gave earlier, you might say that the regular landmarks that we're going to show on the map for San Francisco could be the Coit Tower and the Ferry Building.
JONESBut once you've shown interest and you've done a search for pizza, then probably the most important things on the map are no longer there. And the most important things on the map are in the context of the fact that you've done a search for pizza or in the context of the fact that you've clicked on the museum, and you've shown interest in maybe cultural things that you can go and do on a Sunday afternoon. So we're trying to take into consideration all of the kind of static signals that we've (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIOnly got about 10 seconds.
JONES...but also the -- sorry, also the context and the information you're providing about what you care about.
NNAMDIJonah Jones is lead designer for Google Maps. Jonah, thank you so much for joining us….
NNAMDIEric Gundersen, you're going to have to come back to tell us what's next for MapBox. You just received $10 million in venture capital funding. You're planning to use most of that money to hire engineers. And you're moving towards an iTunes model and toward enabling people to use their own data to build maps. So you're going to come back and talk about that. Eric Gundersen is the CEO of MapBox. Eric, thank you so much for joining us.
GUNDERSENHey, thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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