Google Turns Map Maker Loose in the U.S.

When Google (s goog) first introduced Map Maker almost three years ago, it was billed as a way for people to help shape Google Maps, especially in areas where local map data was hard to come by. But after helping improve maps in 183 countries and regions, Google is turning the power of crowd-sourced mapping on in the United States, a curious move in some sense because of Google’s already comprehensive work with Google Maps here.
Google originally hoped locals around the world would use Map Maker to fill in basic data on roads, landmarks and basic information for maps. The work has paid off, said Google, with the 30 percent of the world’s population equipped with maps on where they live, double the percentage when Map Maker began. But now Google says there’s a need for the same tools in the U.S. where more detailed and up to date information can help make Google Maps more dynamic and accurate. Google Map Maker tech lead Lalitesh Katragadda said locals are able to fill out fresh details and information that add a richness to Google Maps that it currently lacks.
“The world is living and breathing and changing constantly,” he said. “Our goal is to have a map that conforms with the world as it changes.”
With Map Maker, any Google user can contribute to Google Maps by adding information about local places, correcting bad data or highlighting businesses or points of interests that are missing. Users, for example, could help supply information on exits for a local mall, specific building names for a school campus or could correct the spelling of a business listing or alert users to a closed restaurant. Users will have limited ability to make changes immediately. Google employs a review system that allows more experienced users to apply edits quickly and sends out updates from less experienced users to the community for peer moderation. Google is opening up a few new features for Map Maker, including the ability for people to use Google Streetview to add edits to maps.
So why is Google turning on Map Maker in the U.S.? I think it has to do with being a comprehensive authority on local data, which is being integrated into more and more of Google’s offerings. Google is in the process of building out its Places directory for businesses and it’s been asking users to rate them via the formerly named Hot Pot recommendation feature. It’s now offering check-ins through Latitude, which is built into Google Maps. It added Place searches into its regular search experience. And it’s working on serving up more location-based ads, which drive traffic and phone calls to local businesses. Combined with its turn-by-turn navigation service in Google Maps on Android, the local data provides a potent combination for consumers and local businesses to find each other. If Google can improve its Maps, it makes that piece even stronger and it helps identify businesses that Google can target as potential Places customers.
Google Map Maker product manager Manik Gupta agreed there are ways that improved Google Maps data can boost other Google properties. “People can add businesses that are not listed in any directory. There is an easy path for merchants to migrate to Places,” he said.
It’s just all part of a larger push by Google to own more of the local market. It knows that 20 percent of all searches are for local things. If it can be the go-to resource for all things local, it will have the inside track on winning the billions of dollars in local advertising money available. It still has a long ways to go in building up a local sales force, creating a Groupon competitor and competing with the likes of Foursquare, Yelp and others. But it’s showing more and more that it’s putting the pieces together in this push for the local market. Map Maker is a small part of this drive but it’s just another sign of Google’s bigger vision for local.