RouteGuru Founders on Google’s landmark-based Driving Directions Launch – “Thank you Goog”

[Google launched landmark based driving direction few days back and while it did validated some of the market hypothesis, it does look intimidating to a few startups who are trying to build their niche in this space (how can a startup take on Google? Is this the death bell?), but there is ofcourse something good about it.

Routeguru founders share their perspective and the road ahead.]

We vividly remember the day, May 26, 2007, when we (RouteGuru) launched our key product, landmark-based driving directions. All major digital media blogs in India went abuzz with the appreciation for the innovation as well as speculations about scaling it.

Last week, Google introduced landmark-based driving directions, a global first for Google Maps. The news about this launch found a place in Google’s worldwide blog as well. And once again, all major digital media blogs, this time globally, are abuzz with the news.

While some of them (e.g. Google Maps Mania, recognize that we pioneered this innovation, the others are either ignorant about it or chose to ignore it.

This post is to:

  • Thank Google for evangelizing landmark-based driving directions,
  • Highlight how our technology and product are better than Google’s.

So, Why Would We Thank Google?

Google’s incorporation of landmark-intelligence in driving directions is a great validation for the need of landmark-intelligence in navigation. In fact, users worldwide are claiming how they need this in their countries as well. We believe that a multitude of online map companies and navigation players, from global leaders like to the smaller ones, will now open up to landmark-intelligence. And if they want to compete with Google, they will need this technology. Indeed, in the past few days after this launch by Google, we have seen new interest in our technology and business from markets that were foreign to us till now.

And why is RouteGuru’s technology better than Google’s?

Following are a few ways (not exhaustive) in which our technology is better than Google’s:

  1. It is much easier to find locations on RouteGuru. On the contrary, there is much noise on Google Maps due to crowd-sourcing of landmarks. For example, it is (as on date) difficult to search for a famous location like ITO, New Delhi.

Location Search on Google:

Location Search on Google
Location Search on Google

Location Search on RouteGuru:

Location Search on RouteGuru
Location Search on RouteGuru
  • Correct starting orientation (the first step in directions) is important in giving effective directions. While Google’s blog post does talk about using landmarks to orient the user correctly, the feature is sparsely visible on Google Maps in reality. But RouteGuru does use a landmark to orient a user:

Starting Orientation in Google:

Starting Orientation in Google Maps
Starting Orientation in Google Maps

Starting Orientation in RouteGuru:

Starting Orientation in RouteGuru
Starting Orientation in RouteGuru
  • In reality, one often uses structures like “overhead tanks” as landmarks while guiding somebody. RouteGuru makes use of even such landmarks while Google seems to miss out on them.
  • In spite of the fact that Google must have plenty of landmarks in their database, appearance of landmarks is (comparatively) sparse in Google’s directions. On the other hand, RouteGuru’s technology manages to use an available database of landmarks more richly in driving directions. Please compare directions for any pair of locations to know the difference.
  • As the user tends to rely on landmarks included in driving directions, they need to be “positionally accurate”; else, they can misguide the user like nothing else can. For example, if McDonalds falls on my left side in reality but the map tells me that it will fall on my right side, I may head in the opposite direction. This (positional accuracy of landmarks) is one area where Google will need to be very careful, given their apparent reliance on crowd-sourcing of landmarks through Google Map Maker.

What’s coming up new in RouteGuru product?

“This comes as no surprise as it was only a matter of time before one of the Internet giants realized the strategic importance of “landmark intelligence within driving directions”. Many of our admirers, friends, regular users, bloggers and journalists are contacting us to learn, “What now?”, “What it really means for RouteGuru?”, “Is it really the end of story?

I candidly want to communicate that it’s a good lesson for us about what can it really mean when big companies talk to you and how we end up communicating many things unknowingly. It’s an emotional hurt to see someone else reaping the benefit of an innovation pioneered by us and for the small entity that we are, we can only feel helpless.” – Piyush, cofounder on his pesonal blog

In the past one and a half years, we have done further research on how people give or consume directions in unstructured terrains. Thereby, we have identified and solved another key problem, the problem of the first-mile and the last-mile.

In the absence of addressing structure in such geographies, it is magnificently difficult for map-creators to geocode all addresses and for programmers to write elegant search-engines to search a user-input address in an address-database.

Even if the location is properly mapped (by the map-creator or a user), the first-mile directions (directions from the starting point to the nearest major landmark) and the last-mile directions (directions from a major landmark near the destination to the doorstep of the destination) are where the quality of automation does not match up to the ad-hoc directions given by humans. And the traveling user often wastes time in figuring out these parts, particularly the last-mile.

RouteGuru has devised an innovative approach to solve this problem elegantly.

Before closing, we welcome Google to the universe of landmark-based navigation.

[And we would love to hear from you. Please send your feedback to “Feedback at RouteGuru dot com” and alliance proposals to “Alliances at RouteGuru dot com”.].

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