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.