Google Maps Fail

Today my lovely wife asked me to help with a small project: figuring out the size of a parcel of land.  She was all set to start guessing when I pointed out that Google maps would do the calculations for us.  Or at least the length and width of this fairly rectangular piece of land.  Which led to the biggest Google Maps Fail we have seen in several years.

The idea was simple.  Ask for directions from First and Main to First and Shasta.  It’s a straight shot, no one-way streets, and we thought it would be easy.  Here’s Google’s first suggested route:

First Try at Google Directions

First Try at Google Directions

Well, that’s not very intuitive.  Luckily I remembered that you can drag and drop the line to change the route.  I managed to get this:

Second Try at Google Directions

Second Try at Google Directions

But that was it.  Google simply would not let me drag that little part of the route onto First Street where it belongs.

A Digression About Ancient History

In the distant past we did quite a bit of mobile device testing.  We were often asked to test maps, usually Google maps mobile.  We had attended an event about 15 miles up the peninsula (in San Mateo) and did not want to drive home, so we checked into a local hotel.  The next morning we started looking for a place to have breakfast.  Google maps recommended two places, one of which was about five miles away.  The other was in Pacifica.  For those not familiar with the greater San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose area, Pacifica is roughly 21 miles from San Mateo.  And we could see several restaurants by looking out our hotel window.

Our Suspicions

At the time we believed Google maps had been bought and paid for by Google advertisers.  It’s difficult to believe that such a crazy result could have happened by chance.  Now our suspicions are aroused once again.  What business is on that little stretch of street that is heavily connected to Google (via advertising, personal connections, or anything else)?  There is a Starbucks, but it’s at Second and Main which was dropped out when we edited the original map.

Luckily, there is competition in this market.  Bing.  Apparently Microsoft has been able to figure out that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.


Bing Maps Did the Job

Bing Maps Did the Job


We’ve always been suspicious of Google’s motivation.  Over 90 percent of the company’s revenue comes from advertising.  Their stock price is around $700 a share giving a hefty price-earnings ratio of 22.  And the stock’s beta is 1.23, making it pretty volatile (data from Yahoo! Finance as of December 15, 2012).  Under those conditions, there is always pressure to figure out “innovative” ways to increase earnings.  Events like those described here just make us wonder even more about whether Google has sold their map search results.  If you have any experiences with Google maps, please share them in the comments area below.

About Tony Lima

Tony Lima has been working with technology, economic modeling, forecasting, and market research for 40 years. His background makes him uniquely qualified to navigate this varied landscape. Begin with his education: B.S. in chemical engineering from M.I.T. , M.B.A. from Harvard, Ph.D. in economics from Stanford. His day job was professor of economics at California State University, East Bay. He retired in 2016 to devote his time to consulting and writing. But he has found time to: write (eight books and over 100 articles ranging from wine economics to detailed analyses of meta-language code generators) consult with companies ranging from Microsoft to CEDEX keep his expertise up-to-date, constantly reading and sorting through the avalanche of information available daily maintain three blogs: Wine Research, Wine Economics, and Economic Policy Local policy analysis: Los Altos

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