Friday, December 18, 2009

Google introduces landmarks on India maps

In India people rely more on landmarks than on road names to get around by John Ribeiro

Google Maps has started offering driving directions in India using landmarks, rather than road names alone.

The feature may be rolled out in other countries, as there appears to be a need for it in some other countries as well, Manik Gupta, product manager at Google India, said on Thursday.

Using Google Maps from their desktops and mobile phones, people can navigate around locations in India following landmarks like petrol stations, banks, schools, railway stations, bus stops, local businesses, traffic circles and signals.

The new feature in Google Maps addresses a peculiar requirement in India, as roads in the country are often not properly marked, or the markings are not visible, Gupta said. People in India are also culturally inclined to navigate using landmarks rather than road names, he added.

"We found that the way we offer directions globally on Google Maps is probably not the best way to do it in India," Gupta said.

Google's competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft, already offer maps with both landmarks and road names in India. Google took more time to release the feature as it wanted to get the user interface and the structure of the data right before launching it, Gupta said.

Yahoo's landmark information is supplied by map providers, though it has a provision for users to suggest corrections to landmark and other map data.

Google collects landmark data through "Points of Interest" created by users in Google Map Maker. Google sees user created data as more accurate because of the strong moderation system, including peer review, in Map Maker, Gupta said.

Yahoo did not comment for this story.

Google's new algorithm determines which of the landmarks are most useful for navigation, based on importance, and closeness to the turns that the user is making, and other available signals, the company said.

Following the launch of the new service, Google will now combine landmark data, counted turns such as "the 2nd right", intersection names, and road names, and try to use whatever information is most relevant and useful, the company said.

Google is providing two kinds of landmarks - to identify where users need to turn, and to provide confirmation that they're on the right track, it added.

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