Mapping a new battle

Written by Anand J | Updated: Oct 7 2013, 17:02pm hrs
Last week, mobile device manufacturer Nokia followed internet firm Googles footsteps by crowd-sourcing the data accumulation for its mapping solution called Here (stylised as HERE). Incidentally Microsoft, which announced its decision to acquire Nokias device and mapping solutions, Bing Maps are powered by Nokias Here maps. Google Map Maker was conceptualised in 2008 by Google Indias head of products, Lalitesh Katragadda and has now evolved as a key product in Googles emerging markets philosophy.

Two months ago, Apple acquired Embark, a company that also develops apps aimed at public transport users, in its quest to improve its Maps.

During its launch Apples Mapping solution had faced a lot of flak. Meanwhile Google acquired Waze, which helps report real-time incidents to Android and iOS applications. The search giant has recently integrated Waze community-reported real-time traffic reports into the mobile versions of Google Maps.

Mapping products have gained in importance for the major technology companies over the past couple of years. Maps and location-based services are increasingly becoming important in an always connected lifestyle and that translates into benefits for the local business. These listings on maps can come in handy for people on the move. Companies wish to translate the online presence of these local businesses to advertisements at a future date or even simply as a better product ensuring the user stays on with their maps.

Sophisticated map-making is already a human and capital-intensive business. Add to this the fact that the world around us is constantly evolving with the addition of new roads, new infrastructure and even new names, and cartographers simply cant keep up, says Michael Halbherr, executive vice-president of HERE. Nokias project is a pilot that is being tested for the first time globally in India.

The project with a team of more than 1000 people will combine Nokias industrial data collection methods with a crowd mapping initiative. Nokia feels that by balancing both its highly advanced industrial capture methods along with contributions from residents of local communities will provide a fresh, precise and locally relevant information.

HERE will employ its global crowd-sourcing pilot programme to tap the expert know-where of a billion Indian consumers. This initiative will help HERE gain a sizeable competitive edge with broader and denser mapping coverage in one of the most multi-faceted geographies globally, says Neil Shah, research director, Counterpoint Research, a technology research firm .

The companies position this as a social service by mapping local hospitals, schools, rivers, temples and petrol pumps that will make a difference to peoples lives. According to Nokia, by using Map Creator tool that allows people to add missing streets, bridges, points of interests and other information to the map, and local experts can share insider knowledge of the areasthat in turn can put their communities on the map.

While using Google Map Maker, public can select a specific area on Google Maps and add new information based on their local knowledge or by referencing Google Maps satellite imagery. Once the addition is submitted, this will be verified by the expert committee and the new information will be added to Google Maps.

Nokia also has built a community map moderation system that allows both HERE team as well as the community at large to verify edits before integrating them into the base map. Once integrated, these changes will become available within days to all users across the wide range of HERE customers, including automakers, personal navigation device manufactures, mobile device makers and Web and enterprise clients.

Earlier this year Google also did a country-wide mapping contest called Mapathon 2013 for around six weeks, inviting amateur mappers and mapping enthusiasts to add their knowledge of local places through Google Map Maker. The company even had Android tablets, smartphones, gift vouchers as added incentive for mapping.