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Google wants to build maps that customize themselves based on what they know about you

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Two of the senior designers working on Google Maps told the Roadmap 2013 conference in San Francisco on Tuesday that maps are just a “canvas for the stuff we know about the world,” and the search and web-content giant is trying to build as much knowledge into its maps as possible. Soon, they said, every map will be customized for a specific person and a specific location — and the more context it has about you, the more useful it can be.

Jonah Jones, a user experience designer at Google, said much of the past decade has been spent on simply digitizing all of the existing paper maps and information so that they can be accessed more easily on the web and on mobile devices. But now that this foundation has been created, he said, map designers can add more and more detail that customizes the experience based on location and other signals about a user.

“When we combine the location with the other data we have, we can actually build a new map for every purpose or every location — a very specific map that no one has ever seen and won’t be there again because it was just created for this one purpose.”

To take one example, Jones said that when users zoom out on a map, the labels for locations and businesses collide, and the service has to decide which ones to highlight on a zoomed-out view — so Google used to just make a choice about which business or feature was more important. But by considering the locations a user has either checked into or searched for, Google could change or re-rank the labels so that users would see the ones that are most interesting or important to them.

Bernhard Seefeld, a product manager for Google Maps, said that in some cases, Google may know enough about you that it doesn’t even need to show you a map — it may know that you are at the airport, and so it can show you flight times without even requiring you to search. Your location actually becomes almost like a search query, he said. “A map is just one way of interpreting the data” that a service knows about you, he said.

Check out the rest of our Roadmap 2013 coverage here, and a video embed of the session follows below:

[protected-iframe id=”d4fde4183d533da3701c21bf6a0367ad-14960843-33105277″ info=”″ width=”640″ height=”360″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no”]
A transcription of the video follows on the next page

7 Responses to “Google wants to build maps that customize themselves based on what they know about you”

  1. Outsmarting customers will hurt Google on the long term. They’re already have too much info gathered using apps that soon they’ll be capable of changing your lifestyle. I wonder how much of this data is accessed by the government. Are we still the land of the Freedom? Now I have serious doubts.

  2. When I’m at the airport, why would I be searching for flight times on my phone? The airport provides that information on arrivals and departures boards. There’s all sorts of information I might be looking for, about my destination or what I will be doing when I get there, or something not related to the trip at all. Having flight times come up would just be irritating.

  3. The new Maps for desktop and Android Maps 7+ are awful! If Google thinks they know the route I want to take then they failed big time. The new layout, colors, and labels are completely dysfunctional. Maps for Android prior to version 7 had a much cleaner and more focused look which gave me reason to look down on my Apple peers, although now even Mapquest has a better look than Google Maps. If I’m even able to see the path the new Google Maps suggest me to drive, which is far from a given, these guys made a huge mistake by taking away the ability to see traffic on my chosen route without even pressing a button. Even worse, we can no longer touch 1 single button to see alternate trips while en route! With that single click I could quickly see during my trip if I should go left, right, or straight through downtown. Their new dictated routes are much harder to compare and don’t even take my current location into account once I’ve hit the navigate button. I’m not against Google building a customized map provided they don’t screw up the reason I use their product in the first place. I’m definitely going to look for other map and navigation options going forward. I can’t imagine Google doesn’t react to the myriad complaints in Google Play towards their recent changes.

  4. I’m all for customized content to better serve my specific interests and so on, but to a point, they should always balance that with new content and an option to explore new things.