Brilliant but thirsty
One of the least talked-about stories in the evolution of Google is how Maps went from being a simple navigation tool to an authoritative place database, guide and recommendation tool.
In recent weeks Google Maps has started telling me about popular new restaurants near me. If I want to check when’s best to visit the post office, I can check its peak footfall times. If I want to know when my local supermarket opens on Sunday, I just tap it on the map and up pops the information. When should I leave the house for a bus? Zoom into the nearest bus stop, tap it, and up pops the timetable. Want to get a taxi instead? I can see how busy the roads are.
Google Maps is incredible. It’s killed a thousand other startups’ ideas to get where it is, but as a tool for exploring the world, it’s unbeatable. It truly is useful to have all that information in one place
Part of the genius of Maps is that the information is largely crowdsourced. While Google might collect ‘official’ information for things like bus and train times, a lot of the information is collected from users. This is done both passively (it knows how busy roads and shops are based on data from users logged in on their phones) and actively through prompts to submit information.
And that’s where the problem begins. While it can be fun to occasionally submit a couple of photos of your favourite bar, Maps quickly gets thirsty. Tell us when this shop closes! Does this railway station have a car park? Does this supermarket sell vegan food?
In bulk, this is valuable information for Google, and it wants us to submit it for free. Occasionally, this is okay, but at times it can feel like Maps is constantly pecking your head. 'Tell me more! Tell me more!’
While a hardcore of users with a passion for such things will happily submit endless reams of information about the world around us, to the rest of us it can all get a bit annoying. I’ve dismissed more Maps notifications than I care to remember.
Sure, you can turn these prompts off, but if we all did that Maps would stop getting better. And for many, other, less thirsty, products like Bing Maps and Apple Maps may be perfectly good enough for most uses. Google needs to make sure it strikes the right balance between asking users for information and draining their patience.