Seems to be a project out of @CHI2014, going on now in Toronto.
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Google may be feeling the heat from an unlikely source, Nokia, at least in its critical Maps business. The search giant has put location awareness at the heart of its business model, but Nokia has overtaken it in several respects with its cloud-based Here offering – based on the acquisition of Navteq in 2007 – and has also licensed its mapping platform to some powerful partners such as Microsoft, Amazon and a range of car makers.
Google is promising dramatic changes to its own maps to help fend off the Nokia/Microsoft alliance and also, in the Android segment at least, the challenge from Amazon to a Google-centric experience.
As usual with stories like this, the issue is framed in terms of vendor sports: big companies doing battle over some market category. Lost, also as usual, is what the individual user, or customer, might actually want.
That’s what I’m here for.
So let me start by saying I don’t want a “Google-centric experience,” whatever that is. Nor do I want Google’s (or anybody’s) Matrix-like approach to satisfying what its robotic systems think I might need. Here’s how Caroline explains that ambition:
Bernhard Seefeld, product management director for Google Maps, told the GigaOM Roadmap conference this week that future software will “build a whole new map for every context and every person”, incorporating all kinds of information about the individual and updating this constantly. He added: “It’s a specific map nobody has seen before, and it’s just there for that moment to visualize the data.”
Pushing a major theme at Google this year, Seefeld talks about applications creating emotional connections for users – “emotional maps that reflect our real life connections and peek into the future and possibly travel there”. This will involve context-aware maps that combine location and personal data, some of that taken from other Google apps, particularly its Google Now personal digital assistant – mainly seen as a response to Apple Siri, but in fact far broader in scope, and with a powerful artificial intelligence engine.
Context-aware is fine, provided I provide the context, and the context is as simple as, for example, “I am here” and “I want to go to this other place.” I don’t want guesswork about my emotions, or anything else that isn’t on the vector of what I alone know and want. Paper maps didn’t do that, and the best electronic ones shouldn’t either — not beyond what still feels as hard and useful as paper maps always did.
See, maps are fact-based descriptions of the world. Their first and most essential context is that world, and not the person seeking facts about that world. Yes, map makers have always made speculative assumptions about what a map reader might like to know. But those assumptions have always been about populations of readers: drivers, aviators, hikers, bike riders, sailors, geologists, etc. That they don’t get personal is a feature, not a bug.
A brief story that should tell you a bit about me and maps.
In October 1987, on the way back to Palo Alto after visiting my daughter at UC-Irvine, my son and I noticed it was an unusually clear day. So we decided to drive to the top of Mt. Wilson, overlooking Los Angeles. On the way we stopped at a fast food place and ate our burgers while I studied various AAA maps of Southern California and its cities. When we arrived at the top, and stood there overlooking a vista that stretched from the San Bernardino mountains to the Channel Islands, four guys from New Jersey in plaid pants, fresh from golfing somewhere, asked me to point out landmarks below, since I already was doing that for my son. The dialog went something like this:
“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”
“Over there on the right is Verdugo Mountain. See that green stretch below? In there is the Rose Bowl.”
“On the other side of Verdogo is the San Fernando Valley. South of that are the Hollywood Hills.”
“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”
“Yes, on the south side, facing Hollywood. Mulholland Drive runs down the spine of the hills on the far side of the Sepulveda Pass, where the 405 passes through. The Malibu Hills are beyond that. You can see the buildings downtown to the left of that. Long Beach and San Pedro, Los Angeles’ port cities, are to the left of the Palos Verdes peninsula, which are the hills over there. You can see Santa Catalina Island off beyond that.”
“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”
“Over there in the Puente Hills. See that low ridge?”
“Yeah. Wow. How long have you lived here?”
“I don’t. This is only my second trip through. I live up north.”
“Where are you from?”
“New Jersey, like you.”
“How do you know so much about all this around here?”
“I study maps.”
Of which I have many, now mostly mothballed in drawers. I have topo maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, sectional charts from the FAA, maps atlases from the Ordnance Survey in the U.K., and many more. When I fly in planes, I follow the scene below on my laptop using Garmin Road Trip (an app that is sorely in need of an update, btw.) That’s how I can identify, literally on the fly, what I see out the window and later detail in my aerial photo collections on Flickr.
So, having presented those credentials, I rate Google’s Maps mobile app at the top of the current list. Google’s search is great, but substitutable. So are many other fine Google services. But I have become highly dependent on Google’s Maps app because nothing else comes close for providing fully useful facts-on-the-ground. Here are a few:
- Transit options, and arrival times. Here in New York one quickly becomes dependent on them, and they are right a remarkable percentage of the time, given how uneven subway service tends to be. Hell, even in Santa Barbara, which is far from the center of the public transportation world, Google’s Maps app is able to tell me, to the minute, when the busses will arrive at a given stop. It’s freaking amazing at it.
- Route options. Even while I’m on one route, two others are still available.
- Re-routing around traffic. It doesn’t always work right, but when it does, it can be a huge time/hassle saver.
- Timeliness. It couldn’t be more now, and a living embodiment of the Live Web at work.
I also like Here, from Nokia. (As you can see from my collection of maps apps, above. Note the second dot at the bottom, indicating that there’s a second page of them.) I also have enormous respect NAVTEQ, which Nokia bought a few years back. NAVTEQ has been at the map game a lot longer than Google, and is at the heart of Here. But so far Here hasn’t been as useful to me as Google Maps. For example, if I want to get from where I am now to the meeting at NYU I’ll be going to shortly, Google Maps gives me three options with clear walking and riding directions. Here gives me one route, and I can’t figure how to get the directions for taking it. (Both are on my iPhone, btw.)
So here is a message for both of them, and for everybody else in the mapping game: Don’t subordinate pure mapping functions to a lot of “emotional” and other guesswork-based variables that advertisers want more than map readers do.
This might also help: I’m willing to pay for the maps, and services around them. Not just to avoid advertising, but to make those services accountable to me, as a customer, and not as a mere “user.”
As advertising gets more and more personal, and more creepy in the process — without any direct accountability to the persons being “delivered” a “personalized experience” — a market for paid services is bound to emerge. I’ll enjoy being in the front of it.
It’s interesting to see where photos end up (or start out, or re-start out) when one puts them in position to be used and re-used with minimized friction. The one above, of a coal-fired power plant in Utah that supplies electricity to Los Angeles, and which I shot from a flight overhead in January 2009, appears in at least these three places, so far:
- Giant King Grass In Pellet Form, in Energy Insight, in October 2009. (With thanks for the photo from the author, on the source page.)
- 1% Of US Power Plants Emit 33% Of Energy Industry Carbon. Easy Fix? by John Johnston in The 9 Billion, on September 12 of this year, with photo credit.
- LADWP May Be Buying Utah Sun. By Chris Clarke in KCET, on September 18. That one’s actually a different shot from the same series, also with photo credit.
I just noticed that mining and power generation figure prominently in that collection. Maybe that’s because I like to shoot pictures of infrastructure, geology and both at once. Or maybe it’s because the subject is interesting enough for Wikimedians to put the shots in there. Dunno.
Oddly, I don’t see the Utah power plant shot in the midst, but maybe I missed it. More likely people using the shots have done a search-by-license on Flickr, such as this one for coal.
Last Saturday evening I was walking up Wadsworth Avenue in Manhattan, a few blocks north of 181st Street, when I passed a group of people sitting sitting on the steps of an apartment building. They were talking, drinking, eating snacks and listening to a boom box set to 94.9FM. A disc jockey chattered in Spanish, followed by music. I noticed the frequency because I’m a lifelong radio guy, and I know there isn’t a licensed station on that channel in New York. The closest is WNSH, called “Nash,” a country-music station in Newark, on 94.7. Given the disc jockey and what little I heard of the sound of 94.9, I was sure the station was a pirate and not just somebody with one of those short-range transmitters you can jack into a phone or a pad.
Before I started hanging at this end of Manhattan I thought the pirate radio game was up. After all, that was the clear message behind these stories:
- Show Me Some Signal: Caribbean Pirate Radio in New York City. By Rishi Nath in Red Bull Music Academy.
- Station had listeners. Just not a license. By Vivian Yee in the New York Times.
- Authorities shut down two pirate radio stations in New York. By Fox News 5.
- NYC Radio: 104.7 FM, 91.7 FM Pirates Busted. By Media Confidential.
But where I mostly hang is a Manhattan apartment that is highly shadowed from FM signals coming from the Empire State Building and 4 Times Square downtown. (That’s where all New York’s main licensed stations radiate from.) Between those transmitters and our low-floor apartment are about a hundred blocks of apartment buildings. Meanwhile, our angle to the North and East (toward The Bronx both ways) is a bit less obstructed. From here I get pirate signals on all these channels:
- 104.7 (Same as the busted one? Sounds like it.)
I can tell most are pirates because they tend to disappear in the morning. Nearly all are in Spanish and most play varieties of Caribbean music. (Which I wish I could understand what the disc jockeys say, but I don’t.)
As for 94.9, here’s how it looks on the display of the Teac 100 HD radio in our kitchen:
RDBS is the standard used for displaying information about a station. The longer scroll across the bottom says “OTRA ESTACION RIKA.” Looking around a bit on the Web for that, I found this page, which says (among much else) “La administración de Rika 94.5 FM Rikafm.com)…” So I went to RikaFM.com, where a graphic at the top of the page says “‘FCC Part 15 Radio Station’.” Part 15 is what those tiny transmitters for your mobile device have to obey. It’s an FCC rule on interference that limits the range of unlicensed transmissions to a few feet, not a few miles. So clearly this is a claim, not a fact. I’ve listened in the car as well, and the signal is pretty strong. Other links at RikaFM go to its Facebook and Twitter pages. The latter says “3ra Radio en la cuidad de New York Rika fm una estacion con talentos joven cubriendo toda la ciudad de NY musica variada 24hrs.,” which Google Chrome translates to “The 3rd Radio in the city of New York RikaFM a station with young talents covering all the varied music NYC 24hrs.”
To me this phenomenon is radio at its best. I hope somebody fluent in Spanish and hip to Caribbean music and culture will come up here and study the phenomenon a bit more closely. Because the mainstream media (thus far — consider this a shout-out, @VivianYee 🙂 ) is just coving a few minutes of the authorities’ losing game of whack-a-mole.
@BlakeHunskicer has a kickstarter project, Fleeing the War at Home: An interactive documentary introducing the crisis in Syria through the personal histories and dreams of Syrian refugees, with a few days and a few thousand dollars left to go.
Blake is one of the graduate students I got to know this last year as a visiting scholar in @JayRosen_NYU‘s Studio20 (@Studio20NYU) class at NYU. He’s a terrific journalist and photographer already, and will put both skills to good use for a good cause. Join me in helping him make it happen.
I like and subscribe to Radio INK, which is the main way I stay current with what’s happening in mainstream radio. And Radio INK loves WTOP, the news station in Washington. Do a search for site:http://www.radioink.com WTOP and you’ll get many pages of praise running from Radio INK to WTOP — all of it, I am sure, deserving.
The latest of these is WTOP IS #1 NEWS STATION IN AMERICA. It begins,
A panel of news and news/talk experts have named Hubbard Radio’s WTOP top news station in the country in Radio Ink’s first listing of news and news/talk stations. Under the leadership of GM Joel Oxley, Vice President of Programming Jim Farley, and Program Director Laurie Cantillo, WTOP has developed into a news leader in the Washington D.C. market, competing with newspaper outlets like the Washington Post and television news organizations in the nation’s capital. WTOP has also established itself as a digital news leader with nearly 100,000 regular readers at WTOP.com and 60,000 followers on Twitter and 11 full- and part-time digital journalists.
Here is the list of stations:
- #1) WTOP – Washington DC*
- #2) 1010 WINS – New York City*
- #3) KFI-AM – Los Angeles
- #4) KCBS-AM – San Francisco*
- #5) WBBM-AM/FM – Chicago*
- #6) WCBS-AM – New York City*
- #7) WBZ-AM – Boston
- #8) WSB-AM/FM – Atlanta
- #9) KYW-AM – Philadelphia*
- #10) WWJ-AM – Detroit*
- #11) KIRO-FM – Seattle
- #12) WBT-AM/FM – Charlotte
- #13) KNX-AM – Los Angeles*
- #14) KKOB-AM -Albuquerque
- #15) WBAP-AM & FM – Dallas
- #16) KTRH-AM – Houston
- #17) KFBK-AM & FM – Sacramento
- #18) KMBZ-AM & FM – Kansas City*
- #19) KRMG-AM & FM – Tulsa*
- #20) WGAN & WGIN – Portland, ME
I put an * next to the stations that are all-news, meaning you’ll hear live news on them if you tune them in, rather than a talk show. The rest on the list are talk/news, rather than news/talk. By that I mean, if Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity are in the station’s program lineup, it’s a talk station.
But I’m also thinking, okay… As long as we’re opening the door here to stations that are a mix of talk and news, why not public radio stations?
Go to Radio-Info’s ratings page for April, and we find, among other things,
- WAMU beating WTOP in Washington, 9.7 to 7.9
- KQED beating KCBS in San Francisco, 5.5 to 5.4 (and KQED also has a 5.6, #3 overall, in San Jose)
- KUOW beating KIRO in Seattle, 4.6 to 3.3. (And why doesn’t KOMO, a full-time news station in Seattle, with a 3.2, miss the list above?)
- KPBS in San Diego is the top talk station in that city, with a 4.9. (It has no news stations.)
- KOPB is the #2 station overall in Portland, with a 6.9.
- WUNC is #2 overall in Raleigh-Durham with an 8.1 (and is often #1, for example in February, when it had an 8.4)
As I put it in my response to Radio INK’s latest, “Why not give some credit to the public stations that are huge ratings successes? … I understand that your main interest is commercial radio; but noncommercial radio matters just as much — if not more, if actual listening is taken into account.”
Ed Ryan replied, Doc: Good Points. We did not receive any nominations for non-coms. Hopefully you will nominate a few next year. And, ratings was not the only factor in determining the list. Hope yo are well. Ed
I hadn’t realized that this story was based entirely on nominations by the stations themselves. Now that I do, I invite public stations to step up and start claiming the credit they deserve. I’ll try to remember to do the same, next time this rolls around.