After failing to provide data straight from GIS – which is possible using OpenStreetMap or ESRI’s Community Base Map programs – I sat down with Matt, my student intern that is working on developing the campus data in Map Maker. I instructed him to use our Facilites GIS database as a reference for populating the attributes for Map Maker and to have a polygon as a reference to supplement the Google aerial photograph. He began adding in features, but quickly ran into issues with the review process behind Google Map Maker edits.
Map Maker has a moderation process for all of the edits made by Map Maker users. There are two big issues I see with the manner in which Google has implemented moderation. First, you cannot re-edit (or even touch) new features until they have been moderated. That means that if you are adding a development (or a series of roads on a college campus) you cannot link up the roads that have been previously added and awaiting moderation. The moderation puts a serious crimp in attempts to push out many edits in a small area. Mike Dobson has an incredibly detailed write up on the issues he faced in trying to correct data using Google Map Maker. A very interesting read on how difficult it is to contribute minor fixes.
The second, bigger issue is the moderation itself. Crowdsourced moderation relies on people from potentially anywhere in the world to weigh in on edits. Now, it is likely that most of the edits occurring in the United States are being performed by individuals that are familiar with the area; they’re locals. Locals are the best source of information; they have intimate knowledge of the area and they are able to readily field-verify the information in the system. So we have a pool of local users making edits, but the moderators may not have any prior knowledge on an area in which they moderate.
Here’s a perfect example of the issue with this form of moderation. Google provides an attribute field for buildings that records the construction material. The field is restricted to an enumeration set of four allowable values: “Concrete”, “Mud/Stone”, “Steel” and “Wood”. Several of our campus buildings were held in moderation limbo, as a reviewer felt that my choice of “Steel” was incorrect and should instead be “Concrete.” Why would a reviewer feel the need to question an attribute and hold up the data creation process? Mind you, the values in this field does not impact the manner in which the building is displayed on the map, so it is not critical to know before the feature is drawn. What could a moderator glean from an aerial photograph that would justify questioning the local editor? I know the buildings are constructed using a steel structure and they are faced in brick and stone – I can walk up and touch the building; go inside. I spend hours inside these buildings each work day, but I need to provide a moderator elsewhere some justification or proof to have the edit approved.
Matt drew in Rowan Boulevard Apartments, a building with a rather complex footprint, as the building has a series of setbacks dividing up the residential suites inside. He drew it in Map Maker as close as possible, similar to how it appears in OpenStreetMap. This edit was then altered and poorly generalized. The moderator informed Matt that it should not reflect the roof line. There are no stepbacks and the building is near the nadir of the photo, so the roof line is awfully close to the actual building footprint. He spent a considerable amount of time drawing in a feature to have it simply blown away by some one that likely has never been near the actual structure.
The moderation system in Google Map Maker is broken and will continue to be if local users are not given the benefit of the doubt regarding their edits. OpenStreetMap has the ability to revert vandalism or poorly edited features. Know why people don’t vandalize OpenStreetMap? It’s often a pain in the ass to commit large amounts of vandalism on OSM. Unless you’re a programmer, committing large bogus edits to OSM isn’t easy to do. And on the occasions when vandalism occurs on OSM, it is often corrected by local users. Google’s fear of having bad data on Google Maps (even though so many errors pop up all the time through erroneous business entries scraped from search indexes) is hindering the ability of users to contribute to their platform. Google stole several concepts from OpenStreetMap but not the ones that can elevate it to a platform that could truly produce credible maps from locally-sourced volunteered data. The only thing going for Map Maker is that eventually your edits will appear on the main Google Maps site.
I got involved in Map Maker solely to get Rowan’s campus data on Google Maps. I cannot pull data back out of Map Maker, so after I achieve my goal, I will likely never use Map Maker again. Why deal with all the frustration and reap none of the rewards?
Update: Google Maps routes park visitors down a residential street that doesn’t actually provide access to the park, frustrating the local residents. Also, Google Maps Fail on Tumblr.