Category Archives: maps

Google Maps Adds a Raanan.com Feature Request

Well, I’m sure there were other compelling reasons too :)

Google today rolled out an update to Google Maps that adds crowd sourced traffic congestion data:

When you choose to enable Google Maps with My Location, your phone sends anonymous bits of data back to Google describing how fast you’re moving. When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions.

Sound familiar ? :) In April 2007, I wrote about “Why I love in-car GPS, and how it can be made better“:

What we need, in my opinion, is an opt-in, open standard for sharing in-car/traffic information that any device and any opted-in person can tap into…
And as GPS is incorporated more and more into our mobile phone devices, that should give us a huge installed user base of in-car and mobile devices sharing information about traffic and other conditions. That would be infinitely better than participating in the manufacturers small group of users, and would dramatically increase the chances of having tons of good data on the highway you were looking to avoid b/c of traffic

What’s also really interesting to watch for me is how companies like TomTom, who now have a compelling iPhone app, will deal with Google Maps. My hunch is that they’ll incorporate Google Maps and their own navtech/maps database into some kind of hybrid best of both worlds model. They’ve done a bit of integration already with their TomTom on Google Maps.

Garmin Nuvi 350 portable GPS navigator review

garmin nuvi 350

Gotta love GPS !

After using various GPS units in car rentals, and thinking about next generation p2p GPS devices like the Dash, I finally decided to go out and buy a GPS device for myself. The market for these devices is in a phase where innovation is accelerating, adoption rates are picking up pace, and expectations for the “next thing” dominates product coverage.

My research for this purchase included googling around and finding a good review of the Nuvi 350 on the Signal vs Noise blog (Dec ’05 review) . And also consulting with my buddy, and GPS expert, Wilson Rothman.

It’s been about two months since I chose the Garmin Nuvi 350 after looking at various models. Overall it’s very solid and gets the job done, and for around $350 ( bought in Aug 2007 ) it’s hard to beat.

The good:
- A crisp display that does well in all light conditions
- The maps are easy to read
- Directions are accurate :)
- The voice prompts are helpful and well timed
- If you miss a turn or want to hunt for an alternative route the device “recalculates” very quickly
- The price point was spot on for me

The bad:
- Bootup time could be better — takes about 10 seconds
- Locating the satelite on bootup can take 20-30 seconds – would be nice if it just remembered the last place you were at and asked if that’s where you were.
- Looking up a business name seems too slow to be useful
- In theory it’s portable enough to take on a hike or any other use outside the car. In reality the battery drains so quickly after a charge, that when I go and check the device after being in the car overnight, the battery is almost always completely empty.

The ugly :
- No complaints of anything terrible

Wish list:
- No easy way to transfer address info from my desktop machine to the device. Many times I’m on my macbook pro usually using google maps or yelp to find something, and I would love to be able to email-in or via SMS send the address to the GPS unit. Instead I email myself, and then punch it in when I get to the car
- Certain highways always get selected even though you know better roads are available. Not a big deal, but would be nice if it “learned” my preferences.
- Having to punch in the city name just seems weird. It knows what city I’m in, and should simply show the 5 nearest cities by default.
- Needs to be two way. The other day I had it find the nearest gas station and it found a 7-11 store that had no gas station ! Not a huge deal, and an easy mistake, but I should be able to flag that, and inform all other users of this mistake.
- More two-way options. Would be nice to have the ability to sync all the data back to the web, so I could review past trips, and mark places of interest for future trips.
- More sharing. Would be cool to see (anonymously) what were the most effective routes to take at certain hours based on what other people did, the most scenic, the one with the least amount of traffic, etc. Lots can be done in this area.

So overall The Nuvi 350 is a solid mid tier GPS unit, and I’m personally looking forward to the next generation GPS devices.

Google Maps Street View – wow & my thoughts

Google Street View

This is really getting impressive. Instead of just map mode, or even the satellite view, you can now see a street view as taken by a roving SUV. A9/Amazon had similar map tech for commercial streets, but discontinues it at some point. Google (GOOG) has taken this up a notch, and provided a great user experience.

With any new tech there is always an initial evaluation phase and hopefully some course corrections/improvements in the pipeline. There has been a lot of coverage that this new feature creates privacy concerns(nytimes.com). SFgate has a view showing a man attempting to jump over a fence perhaps — but who really know. And a bunch of people have picked up on some embarrassing/interesting photos – laudontech.com and mashable.com have coverage.

Here are my thoughts:

The good:

- extremely useful in scouting out new areas for apartments. I expect sites like craiglist to link to this directly in short order.

- useful for evaluating businesses locations, and any other commercial real estate deals.

- helpful for simulating what it’s like to navigate in a new area. Imagine you were planning a bike ride or a walk. Using the Street View you can really tell block by block what it’s like to go through those streets.

- I use Google Earth quite a bit too, but this on-the-ground angle is extra useful. Maybe this could be incorporated into GEarth down the line.

The Bad:

- Privacy concerns are real. We don’t know how often they update the photos ( maybe once a year ? ), but having your face show up outside a strip joint is a problem on all kinds of levels. For all we know, that man was just parking his car and was at the wrong place at the wrong time. A photo like this has no context and it’s at least semi-permanent in the google system.

The challenge:

- We all know that certain things are public, and being photographed in public is perfectly legal. We also know that divorce/marriage proceedings and other official court documents are public, and we want them to remain that way. The challenge today is the ease of accessing this public information. Going down to the courthouse to look something up took effort. Clicking your mouse a few times isn’t quite the same.

Conclusion:

I’m a supporter of all these kinds of services, including finding out how much your neighbor paid for that house. What I do recommend is the following:

1) Proper and expedient recourse: If you are going to put up photos or documents that are public and mistakes will inevidebly be made — make sure the public, and more importantly the individual who may be put in a bad spot, has a way to quickly and easily correct the record. (Update: looks like there is a process for requesting photo removals, and people have had some success )

2) Consider excluding personally identifiable information if it doesn’t add value. A person’s face on the side of the street probably doesn’t add much to the google maps street view service. The same technology that could identify our faces in photos ( I’m thinking the original Riya service for example ), could also probably allow google to identify any face and blur out the persons features.

3) Own your own identity. This is a bit more effort, but people need to own their own identity online – via blogs, social network profiles, etc – so that a search for your name doesn’t bring up some strange public record result as result #1 — but rather, it should return the site that you want it to.