Behind the Scenes of Google Maps

In this article from The Atlantic, journalist Alexis Madrigal shares his experience visiting with the “Ground Truth” team at Google which is a team involved in the development of Google Maps. Madrigal explains the process he observed as a Google engineer created a new map and massaged the data to correct any imperfections. Like Madrigal, I am surprised to learn how much human effort and intelligence goes in to making a map. It seemed to me like an impossible task to have a human manipulating and validating each map, but maybe this is why Google Maps is such an amazing piece technology. Google seems to have struck the right balance between automating processes and allowing humans to manipulate data when necessary.

While I think the lede could be strengthened, I liked Madrigal’s choice to include a scene in the middle of the article instead of the beginning. I think it gave the article an interesting flow and helped break up the piece. What did you think of this decision? Do you think the scene should have come earlier in the article?

One thing I thought this piece was lacking was a variety of perspectives. Since this piece was specifically about Google Maps, it makes sense that the variety of the quotes and information came from Google engineers. However, the article claimed that Google is building “the best representation of the world”, but it didn’t provide strong arguments about why it is better than competitors such as Apple’s maps service, other than the fact that Google has a lot of data. Did you think the article was balanced and supported its arguments well?

Finally, I think the choice of images for this piece could be improved. I thought the first image of two employees playing ping pong was a bit out of place. In addition, the third image was a map with certain sections circled where the digital representation didn’t match the physical world. These circles were supposed to point out “obvious” issues with the map, but I still don’t know what these issues are. I think this image’s effect could have been strengthened if the satellite image was also included. What did you think about the images? Did they enhance the piece?



9 Responses to “Behind the Scenes of Google Maps”

  1. I think this article gave a cool inside look at how much work goes into perfecting the accuracy of google maps. I was surprised at how much human effort goes into massaging the maps and responding to problems by consumers. I do wish the article could have used other perspectives than the Google employees and given more comparisons between Google maps and their competitors.

    The images were a little confusing for me as well. I think that the first picture of the mistake map would have made more sense if it were placed next to the fixed map. I didn’t understand right away what was wrong with the first one until I saw the second, and I felt like it was kind of a burden to have to scroll between the two to figure it out. The ping pong picture gave a good representation of Google’s office culture, but it would have been cool to see the actual people manipulating the maps as Madrigal described later in the piece.

    Additionally, part of the title, “What it Means for the Future of Everything” left me wondering if that was ever addressed in the article. Is this appropriate to be in the title or is it kind of vague?

  2. I agree the the lede in this article could be strengthened. When I read the first paragraph, I really had no idea what the author was referencing about hidden maps within Google maps. This phrasing was confusing and could lead to the article losing viewers for this sole reason.

    I also saw a lot of bias in the piece. For instance, the author writes, “Google responded by creating an operating system, brand, and ecosystem in Android that has become the only significant rival to Apple’s iOS.” This statement has no statistics or references, but is presented as if it is a fact. Even if it was based off of real data, without presenting it to the reader, the author looks like they are opinated and are immediately less credible.

    The scene in the middle of the article is a bit distracting. I do agree that it is an interesting break, however I think the organization of the article could have been much better if it followed the traditional makeup of a news piece. Instead of beginning the piece with the vague description of hidden maps, painting the scene of what Google actually looks like would more easily grab the reader’s attention.

  3. Overall, I think this article was really interesting and informative. I think it could have been a bit clearer, and could have explained terms like “massaging data” better to give readers more context about the technology and processes that create these maps.

    I agree with you that I think the choice of images could have been better. To open the article with a scene of two people playing ping pong was pretty random to me, and maybe should have been included after the Google workspace and office was explained, if at all. I would have liked to see an image of someone drawing the roads, since this article heavily emphasized the human effort that goes into making these maps, but its hard for the readers to visualize what that actually looks like.

    I also agree with you that this was a pretty one-sided article. While I appreciated how in depth the article went into Google’s work, it ignored the other map applications and rivals and what they do differently. The article presented Google Maps to be the leading competitor without going in depth at all as to why, and what areas the other rivals were inferior.

  4. To your point about the images, I also found myself wondering what exactly was wrong with the second image. Also, when the author describes the engineer at Google drawing an imperfect circle, I didn’t understand the implications of that. Was it just for demonstration purposes? Or did his drawing actually have an effect on Google Maps? I also think that the way the author displayed the information Google has on each roadway to be unclear. If I were to look at the Google Maps app on my phone, would I be shown a mess of road signs and confusing colored lines? Or do these go away when not in use? I think this would have been an opportunity to include multimedia in the article so that we can more readily grasp the dynamism of Google Maps’ new project. Finally, I would have liked if the author went into some of the commercial effects that Google Maps might have on our society. I think that articles about Google are too often focused on its effects on us and easing our lives rather than how they will affect businesses which is arguably more important.

  5. Firstly, this was a really long piece that already had me worried about the thought of reading it and staying interested, however this was quickly dissuaded when the piece turned out to be insightful and interesting. I liked that it provided an insight, and I also think that although some of the pictures were out of place, the majority were actually important and really did add to the piece. However I do agree that they could have been improved, eg zooming in would have created a more impactful idea of how inaccurate the maps are, as the distance really doesn’t showcase this.

    I think the scene where it was was actually quite a good decision, it’s like the article didn’t actually start until then, and then all that was before this was actually a introduction to the piece. usually I would say this wouldn’t work, but it definitely seemed to work for this piece.

    Lastly, I agree with the bias angle, but also this was clearly a piece that was written for google and based around the reporters trip to the institution so it’s understandable I think.

  6. This was definitely a very interesting article to read. I really enjoyed reading about the work that goes into making a map– something I don’t usually think about when I use the app. I understand that the image of the employees playing ping pong was meant to represent how unique the Google office is, but I don’t think this connection was conveyed well in the story. The images were also a bit unclear and the article’s topic definitely lends itself to multimedia in a way that was not taken advantage of well by the author. There are a lot of cool multimedia things you can do with the Google Maps program itself and that could have worked well here.

  7. I think the lede is fine since it just introduces a fact that there is more complicated map behind the map used by users without using any complicated terminology. The meaning of the first scene is not very intuitive and I think it is unnecessary. The article is not balanced since the author only shows the information he gathered from interviewing people of Google and these information basically is used to show the powerful technologies behind google map. It does not support the argument well since it only shows the technologies of google map and does not mention anything about Apple’s map service.

  8. I also think the lede is really good at generating interest. It adds an air of mystery to the piece, and makes you want to read on to figure out what it’s about! I think the images were really helpful, and really aid as a visual tool in conveying the complex concepts being discussed in the piece.

    I think in general this was just a really cool topic, because at least in my opinion Google Maps is so user-friendly that I don’t even think about what human brainpower and ideas have been put to it to make it this intuitive and easy to use. I thought the Atlantic did a great job generating interest and delivering on its intrigue. I also loved the discussion about where the future of integrative maps and GPS is going. I also agree that the scene in the middle was a great way to break up what were pretty academically dense passages.

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