"Bing / Google Maps Sucks!" our plea for more accurate and helpful criticism of mapping on the web

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Introduction

Twitter is a great service that has given the average person in the street a way to share his opinions and criticism of just about anything with the world. Receiving accurate and well thought out criticism is one of the best ways for companies to improve their products and services, at Earthware we have learnt a lot over the years by listening to what others think about what we do and trying to improve in those areas.

The problem with the two points above is that too often Twitter’s instant availability and it’s 140 character limit has made us all a bit lazy when sharing our opinions and criticism and made us tend to exaggerate or generalise our feedback.

The aim of this blog article is to explore this problem a little further, specifically relating to the opinions and criticism we see shared about two of the most popular mapping platforms Bing Maps and Google Maps.

Comparing apples & pears

Its often difficult to compare two things that arrive at very similar results but from different directions. As a simple example of this lets compare the following two cars:

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Both of these are great sports cars and the result of talented engineers and designers but when comparing individual characteristics they are very different and it would be too easy to suggest one of them is much better than the other.

For example let’s compare the top speeds of both, without a doubt the Ferrari is by far the fastest almost 100% faster. However if we compare the emissions of both the Tesla Roadster, being electric, is by far the best performer (assuming you charge it from a zero emission source) and blows the Ferrari away.

If we say one car is better than the other, because one or more characteristic is better, does that mean the other car “sucks”? I think we can agree that's not true, it’s just that one car or the other will suit the owner depending on what criteria they see as most important to them.

Bringing this back to the world of mapping hopefully you can see how untrue it is to say that one mapping platform “sucks” compared to another if you are only comparing one feature, for example road mapping styles.

Comparing building materials vs. the builder

So if it’s difficult to compare two products by only looking at one, or two, characteristics, or only those that apply to one person’s needs, how about comparing two products that set out to create the same result but one is clearly better? Again let’s compare two cars:

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If someone offered you either of these cars for FREE I’d be surprised if anyone would take the Skoda. Skoda are not exactly know for creating the best build quality or the most stylish cars in the world (they are known for their value but we are talking about a free car). VW however are well known for their quality and reliability and have some stylish cars. Both these cars are created from the same raw materials in fact some models share the same engine and some of the same parts so why is the VW Golf a much more popular car, winning many more awards?

It’s a combination of factors potentially including the time spent building and designing the car, the quality of the tools used to build them and the talent of the engineering and design teams involved.

Brining this back to the world of mapping this means it’s often difficult for consumers to differentiate between how well a website has implemented and designed their mapping vs. how good the mapping platform they are using actually is.

Too often at Earthware we see users complaining about Google Maps or Bing Maps when actually it’s that the site they are using the maps on has either not spent enough time implementing their maps or their development team doesn’t have much experience creating mapping applications.

Taking a closer look at some common mapping criticisms

Here at Earthware we think both Google Maps and Bing Maps are great mapping platforms and we have used both of them in a variety of client’s mapping projects depending on which one fitted the client’s needs better at the time.

However both platforms are not identical, they have some features in common and some very different. Both platforms have areas in which they are better than the other for some, or all, of the specific client needs. Below are some of the more common criticisms we see and some insight into why these features may differ / ‘are perceived as better’ in one platform or the other.

  • Bing maps road map/labels suck

    Recently Bing maps have released a new style for their road maps which have received some praise, and a lot of negativity. Why would Bing change their road map style to something that some people don’t like as much as their old style? Surely there is a reason or do they just not care?

    Digging a little deeper we can start to find the answer, and an angle that suggests Bing Maps may actually be on to something for that is actually better than Google for some uses. Bing actually spent a lot of time and money, and worked with some great talent at Stamen, to produce this new style, but they were aiming for a different goal than Google.

    Bing’s goal for the redesign was to help mapping developers, like Earthware, showcase their data on maps without the bright and colourful maps taking over the show. The new ‘muted’ colour scheme makes it easier for users to concentrate on pushpins and data shown on top of the map. The downside of this is that consumers who are trying to read the labels and roads on the map, without much or any extra data being shown, are now arguably finding it more difficult to read.

    So many peoples perception is that Bing Maps road style ‘sucks’ compared to Google’s. Hopefully you may now see that it does indeed ‘suck’… if you are using it in one particular situation.

  • Bing/Google maps aerial imagery suck

    Another common complaint is that the aerial imagery available is much better in one platform than the other. The problem here is that it may indeed be worse on Google than Bing but is that just in the town/city/country you are interested in? Elsewhere in the world you will often find a different story.

    Also, you will often find it has a lot to do with when you are comparing them, Bing and Google release imagery at completely different times and have very different plans for when and where to take aerial imagery. You may find Google is better this month, but then Bing release more up to date imagery at the same location a month later.

    Again it’s perhaps easier now to understand why it’s not perhaps not a fair comparison of an entire mapping platform’s coverage if you are just focusing on where you want aerial imagery.

  • Bing/Google birdseye/streetview is much better

    Users are often amazed by Bing’s birdseye imagery, or Google’s street view imagery and judge the other platform as ‘sucking’ because they either don’t have birdseye/streetview or don’t have the same coverage worldwide.

    Both birds eye and streetview imagery are brilliant experiences and are useful in different circumstances. For example when searching for a new house streetview really gives you a clear indication of what the front of house looks like as well as the roads around the house. Birdseye however lets you see what the entire area looks like including the back garden and nearby parks. Both are useful if different ways and neither ‘suck’ compared to the other.

    The other common comparison we hear is the coverage Google have in streetview vs. the birdseye coverage Bing have. With Google having streetview over huge areas of Europe and North America it’s easy to think Bing’s Bird’s eye coverage of only major metropolitan areas in these countries is not as impressive an achievement. However consider the following as it might start to seem less of a valid comparison:

    1. Streetview can be taken on any day it doesn’t rain/snow, birdseye can only be taken on cloudless days
    2. Streetview is taken using any normal car, Birdseye is taken from a plane. Costs and laws applying to the use of these two is vastly different.
    3. Streeview required specialist cameras but they are nowhere near as expensive as the cameras and lenses required to take imagery from a plane.
    4. Capturing an entire city in streetview only captures the streets and the areas visible from the street, a small fraction of what birdseye captures with every square metre of the city.
    5. Streetview does not have to combine as many images, taken at different times, from different angles and heights. The sheer processing involved in producing quality aerial imagery let alone birdseye imagery is vast in comparision.
  • TheWebsiteIUse.com’d new maps ‘suck’ because they have moved from Bing/Google to Google/Bing

    Lastly we often hear complaints from regular users of various websites when that website changes the mapping platform they use. Their complaints are usually a combination of the following factors:

    1. They were used to how the old mapping worked, no one likes change
    2. TheWebsiteIUse.com has not implemented all the features of the new mapping platform, or has implemented them in a worse way often because they try and replace like with like rather than creating a mapping experience that works best with the new platform.
    3. The new mapping platform doesn’t offer the same quality of imagery in their locations as the old platform. However it may now be vastly superior in other regions or the new platform brings ‘different’ types of imagery or data like birdseye or OS maps in the UK.

Enough preaching, what are we trying to say?

Maybe you found our blog today, or read it regularly, or someone sent this article to you after you expressed your opinion on a mapping platform. However you came to read this article, we hope it has inspired you to think a little more about giving a mapping opinion or criticism online. If you have just tweeted, emailed, blogged something maybe you would like to go and add more detail, or suggestions, to your comment and maybe even target it at someone who will gladly receive your feedback and have the power change things?

Why not share your new clearer opinion or criticism with the right people, so try the following twitter accounts in your tweet or tweet the website or product that you are using the maps on.

@bingmaps, @googlemaps, @mapquest, @openstreetmap, @ovimaps, @earthware