Google Maps: Good for a Sense of Place?

Oh how I love local newspapers! Particularly when they publish letters like this delightful one penned with a dry sense of humour by Geoff Endacott concerning Google Maps:

Something strange seems to have happened in Chippenham.
Last evening I was checking the website for the Chippenham Model Railway Exhibition which takes place at Sheldon Sports Centre on October 2.
There is a helpful link to Google Maps to show visitors how to find the venue and I'm glad I checked. The Sports Centre seems to have moved into the former maths block at Sheldon School. That will disrupt lessons.
Worse was to follow. I soon realised that major changes have been made in the Monkton Park area. The Olympiad [our local sports centre] has moved to Monkton House on the other side of the park and Wiltshire Council has been forced out onto the grass by the river. The building which used to house their offices is now Monkton Park Golf Course.
At least there is nearby shelter for the staff who have been evicted. All they must do is stroll along to the Town Bridge where they will find that the Red Lion public house has thoughtfully been transferred from Lacock.
I wonder if I can help by painting some new signs. I could easily get the paint from Focus DIY now they have moved to a pedestrian island in Emery Road, which used to be Ivy Lane.
They must have been forced out by Sainsbury's [supermarket] which now occupies their former building. Perhaps Sainsbury's wanted smaller premises after Somerfield [another supermarket, now replaced by Tescos in the town] moved into an office block at the bottom of Monkton Hill and Morrison's [yet another supermarket] transferred their business to a unit at the end of Vincients Road on the Bumpers Farm Industrial Estate.
I must wander into town in the morning to find out what else has moved. After all, surely Google Maps can't be wrong?

After reading that I had to check it out for myself and he's right! I typed Chippenham into Search to get up the appropriate map: it looked just fine, but by zooming in a few times, I soon got a map showing Lacock's Red Lion and a few other locations of local businesses. A couple of further zooms in and the relocated Somerfield store, Monkton Park Golf Course and Wiltshire Council were revealed. Switching to the Satellite View really showed how wrong the map is. I can't show you everything Mr Endacott wrote about as he covered a much larger area of Chippenham than can be found in Google Maps at the scale where these businesses etc. are shown. However, the above picture gives you an idea of what's there and how inaccurate it is.

That isn't all: the village of Kington St. Michael seems to have moved into the centre of town and switching into Street View mode shows that the correctly pictured Oxfam shop in its business details (revealed if you click on the little icon by Oxfam on the map) has now changed into the Giant Party Shop just up the road. In fact most of the shops and other local businesses shown aren't in their rightful places when checked via Street View: for example, Revolutions restaurant is on the bus passing the restaurant at the time and Atwell Martin - a local estate agents - has hopped over the road to take its place.

My local paper has picked up on Mr Endacott's findings and published their own piece, which ends:

Mr Endacott decided not to seek an explanation from Google, but has now got friends checking for errors in their own towns.

I conducted a quick straw poll via Twitter last night and I'm confident that most of you wishing to follow Mr Endacott's friends example will find a similar hilarious level of errors in your neighbourhood. However, there is something you can do about it because Google Maps' help function admits straight away that this kind of data is inaccurate. They also provide a Community Edit function for you to submit changes to the map*, which allows you to change road name labels if they're incorrect, move places marked on the map, or to edit business details provided.

I haven't tried correcting Emery Road to Ivy Lane yet, but I have had a go at moving Oxfam to its rightful spot. If you left click on the icon or placing spot for the place on the map you want to change, a further information box should pop up. There should also be an option called More on there, click on this and another box pops up containing options to Move Marker, Edit Details or Report a Problem. I've moved the Marker for Oxfam - though it doesn't seem to have translated onto the map yet and be warned: if the Marker is moved more than 200 metres Google says it won't be done automatically - and used the Report a Problem option to tell Google that Kington St Michael is in the wrong place - it turns out a house has been moved to the middle of Chippenham, not the entire village: I found that rather disappointing somehow.

In the meantime, I'll always be taking this kind of information on Google Maps with a pinch of salt when visiting somewhere in future, together with a hefty dose of local knowledge gleaned from the place's inhabitants!

How's your neighbourhood looking? Does Google Maps have a good sense of place there? What's the most glaring error you've found?

* = which is probably how some of these errors got there in the first place

Update: There's a fab conversation going on in the Comments re the implications of all of this for businesses, do have a look and join in :) If you have your own business, you may also find this article about using Google Maps interesting.


  1. well, google maps has derby, connecticut right. except the image is at least 18 months old! i take more than a few grains of salt with google directions, however. it has been my sorry experience that an entire salt shaker is needed!

  2. This has had so much less publicity than sat nav errors, but presumably could cause some of the same problems.

    Be reassured, garden visiting types, Veddw is in the right place on Google Maps! (at the moment = maybe they wander?)

  3. Petoskystone - I believe the data can be up to 7 years old, hence Google's caveats re accuracy and the facility to Community Edit. After all, it would take lots of people employed by Google to check and do it themselves!

    Anne - I see from Google that there is a facility to 'Claim Your Business', that is if your buisness has been placed on the map by them, you can claim it (probably involves a fee?), which means only you can correct any information and placing on the map. I suspect a similar facility might also be available (again for a suitable fee?) to businesses not on the map, so they can put themselves on there.

    It all depends on whether people use this level of detail when using the maps. I haven't in the past until I found out about it via my local newspaper yesterday. But if people do (and if they don't now, I'm sure that Street View coverage and usage will mean they will do in the future), then businesses need to weigh up the risk of how inaccurate data might impact on their business and the cost (if any) involved in correcting it and keeping it up to date.

    After all, how often do people use Google Maps these days? Pretty much all the time in my experience.

    BTW I had a quick look at Multimap to see if there were similar issues there. They don't go down to the same level of detail re businesses on the whole, but I did find 2 Lloyds Banks (there's only 1 in the middle of Chippenham), a Bristol & West (been shut for years) and no Nationwide Building Society when looking at the cash machine locations in the centre of town.

  4. You raise the horrendous possibility of people editing your business entry all unknown to oneself! Must check that out and tie it down before someone puts in that we open in the middle of the night or something!!

  5. small whinge. Our sleepy little corner of the world hasn't been updated on Google Earth for years. Our house is now three years old, but still invisible. Just the trees, as it was when we bought the plot ;>)

  6. Anne - absolutely. Just like anyone can mess around with the information with Wikipedia, anything which can be changed by someone using it on the internet needs to come with a warning sign: 'User Beware: things might not be as they seem'. At least Google seems to be offering the opportunity for owners of that information to ringfence just who is allowed to edit that data. I suspect it comes at a cost, so you need to weigh up that cost vs how interested someone might be in altering that data 'just for a laugh' or whatever vs the damage to your business if someone relies on that inaccurate data and e.g. can't find you as a result, then goes elsewhere instead

    EE - In view of our discussions in the Comments so far, I'm not surprised!

  7. Anne - OR if there is a cost and you think it's too expensive, then you need to weigh up whether its worth popping into Google Maps from time to time (e.g. especially during your opening season?) just to make sure that everything's as it should be.

  8. Hi VP

    Loved the letter and all these goings on in Chippenham. Good Sunday reading.

    Much as I hate to support the big boys, I think I had better add a balancing comment and confess that Google Maps has been good for me. We have received bookings for the cottage as a direct result of Google Maps. Proven fact!

    So if your readers are inclined to 'claim' their businesses then I would recommend they do so pronto and put some thought into what they say about themselves. Plus, it is worth remembering that the Google Maps link to a business website does carry some weight.

    Off to find your Twitter address now . . .

  9. Catherine - thanks for weighing in with such useful information from a business viewpoint :)

    I absolutely agree that businesses need to think very carefully about where Google fits into their business plan. You've already said on you blog how the right use of keywords has helped with Google search ranking and thus helped to increase bookings for your cottage. Google maps is another example and judging by your experience, businesses should definitely be making sure they're represented on there in the best way.

    Um, there is a @VegPlotting Twitter account that isn't very active. I'm Tweeting as @Malvernmeet at the moment as this how I started with Twitter earlier this year. Am in the process of gradually changing things over to align the account more with my blog :)

    Thought about coming to you in September, but see that you're booked!

  10. What wonderful fun!

    I'm tempted to rearrange Weymouth and Dorchester.

    Fantastic. Had no idea one could mess around and move things in this way.

    Thanks for the information.

    I'm off to . . .


  11. Fascinating stuff. Like Lucy, I find it tempting to go and play!

  12. Lucy and Lu - you two are very naughty ;)

  13. Great letter from Mr.Endacott - having worked for many years in a school environment I am sure that that the displacement of a sports centre would have caused only minor disruption to the flow of
    lessons :) Have never checked out our locality in detail so will have to have a reccie.

    Googlemap now has directions for pedestrians in a beta mode. I searched recently for directions from Waterloo to The Garden Museum and had a good giggle over this advice :
    'Use caution – This route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths.'

  14. Oh hilarous I love this and most look up my area. We stick to paper maps, good old common sense and a spirit of adventure on our travels :) Google maps - pah! I laugh at you.

  15. Oh dear, sad news, the marinia is on dry land, the cinema is by the water, the (quite famous) rubgy pitches are gone, we have no leisure center even though millions was just spent on it a few years ago, the hospital is missing and iceland is inside a church! Oh this is upsetting, I don't know where to go anymore - and that's just the start!

  16. Anna - I hadn't spotted the pedestrian directions option. Thanks for pointing it out.

    Carrie Hilarious! I think it's you that has the sense of direction and Google Maps hasn't. I'm wondering if Google were trying to provide what they perceive as a better service than what other online map providers such as Multimap or e.g. our beloved Ordanance Survey does and has consequently bitten off more than it can chew?

  17. Anne - Veddw is safe! Because you put Veddw's details on Google Maps you've already claimed your marker. I tried to move it just now but a message pops up telling me only you can do that when I click on the option.

  18. I'm a bit obsessed with the 'properties' overlay on Google Maps at the moment - I've mentally moved house dozens of times since I discovered it last week.

  19. Thanks HM - I hadn't spotted that new feature!


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