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:
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:
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.
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.
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.