1 in 3 Searches are Local

We thought this was such a great video by Ed Parsons, we decided to have it transcribed too for those who prefer to read it.

What I wanted to spend the 20, 25 minutes talking about is where and actually putting what you’re going to hear the rest of the afternoon into context. To do that, I want to do two things. Look a little bit back to say, “Well, how have we got to where we are today in terms of where maps are and they’re used today?” Then, do that really dangerous thing about looking into the future and saying, “Well, this is where maps might be heading.”

That’s dangerous because this is a really dynamic, moving marketplace. It’s quite hard to really judge. The bit in the past, I think, we can do quite accurately. That’s useful because it explains why Google has invested so much time and effort into building Geo, to building this platform. Those of you doing Bingo platform will come up a number of times I think today as a word.

Google is all about finding things. Believe it or not, many occasions when you go to Google and you type in your search query, you’re going to be looking for information that is actually about places. It’s about a location or an activity that happens somewhere. It goes much deeper than the Google maps that you might be familiar with. This has become almost part of the landscape now.

We take it for granted that we can go to Google maps and search for a Thai restaurant anywhere in the world and up will pop the familiar little red pins that tell you here are the restaurants, here are the details about them and how you’re going to get to them and so on. That actually underplays how fundamental Geo is to how Google operates and how important geospatial technology is. This, hopefully, is one of the insights that you’ll recognize from your own businesses.

Although it might not be explicit, maps everywhere, actually a lot of what all of us do makes use of geographic information. Geography is another way of organizing the information that we might have internally. We do ourselves at Google, hopefully by the end of today you will perhaps look at some ways perhaps the same technology can make relevance in your business.

Just to demonstrate how relevant, about 1-in-3 queries that people just type into their standard Google search bar are about places. They’re about finding out information about locations. So, this isn’t Google maps, this is just people normally looking at Google and what we have to do behind the scenes is to try and understand, what are people looking for and can geography help?

Let me demonstrate how far we’ve come in trying to solve that problem. Let’s start off with the basic geek premise, the beginning of every evening is where do we find the pizza. This has been the traditional way of starting any GIS presentation probably for the last decade, why change? I thought of maybe using coffee shops but, Starbucks, the press about this is not particularly good at the moment so we’ll stick with pizzas.

OK, how did we do this back in 2004? In 2004, Google Local, as it was, was a distinct part of Google. It wasn’t the kind of standard Google that does everything. If you wanted to find out about your local area, you went to Google Local. You can see there from 2004, a number of key items I want to point out to you. There were two search boxes at the top; what are you looking for and whereabouts are you looking.

Here I’m looking for a Milo’s Pizza, there it is displayed and you’ll see the mapping comes from another company; someone called MapQuest. I don’t know, has anybody ever heard of them? They may have been big once upon a time. Where we are today in 2012, for that same business, one thing has changed. There’s now just one search box for me to type in. I don’t have to say explicitly where I am.

Behind the scenes we can cleverly work out where you are and present the information that is the most relevant to you. And then, the information that we give back is much more than just that simple map. Yes, there is the map, and that’s important, but we also now have photographs of the business, both street view photographs from the outside but inside pictures as well. We’ll have reviews from people who have visited that particular business.

We can give you driving directions; turn-by-turn directions, but we can also direct you there by public transport. There’s a tab there for fixing any errors that might be contained in that information that we present back to you. Of course, increasingly relevant, all that information is presented to you in the same way on your mobile device.

To do that, to present all of that rich content, up-to-date mapping, photographs, everything else, we’ve built a platform. I told you this platform word is going to keep coming up. I think in many ways, the most important thing that we recognized, and that you probably all appreciate as well, is to do this, we had to go beyond just digitizing existing street maps.

That wasn’t the solution. We actually wanted more intelligence that comes from just scanning a cartographic map. We actually wanted to be able to dig deeper.

Let’s go through a little bit of history from 2005 onwards and see how we’ve got to where we are today with this platform. Back in 2005, the key event was from Google’s point of view, the acquisition of Keyhole. Keyhole was the company that developed the technology that we now know as Google Earth. That was in the autumn of 2005 and Google Earth, as it is now, or the Keyhole viewer, had existed for a few years.

Its principal limitation, and one that we’ll all recognize from working in mapping for any period of time, was there wasn’t enough data. Now, Larry Page famously said to the founders when they started Google, “Your product is great but only having North America doesn’t really work. Let’s go and get imagery for the whole world.” That was the big change. That’s what happened. We went and we acquired satellite imagery for the whole planet and aerial photography and everything else.

To give you some idea of the scale of the effort, in that period, between sort of autumn 2005 and Christmas of 2005, when Google Earth just started, Google Earth traffic accounted for half of all Google’s bandwidth. It had such a big impact and people were looking at all of these images. Now, obviously, things have moved on a bit, but that just shows you how big a change it was to Google making this data available.

The other big change in 2005 was in terms of ease of use. Web mapping had been around for awhile but Google introduced what was now known as Ajax technology making use of the browser to make interaction with the maps much more natural.

In the old days, if you wanted a map, you’d type in where you wanted to go, a service somewhere on the internet would clunk away and a map would appear on the screen. If you wanted to zoom in or you wanted to look a little bit to the left or little bit to the right, you’d send a message to the computer somewhere else and it would chug, chug, chug and then another map would appear.

With Ajax, we produced what we call “slippy maps”, where behind the scenes the mapping was created for you so that when you zoomed in or panned it seemed to happen instantly. It made a big difference. Clearly there was a bit of a problem. I don’t know, I can’t see the problem with this. We had North America and we had UK, is anywhere else in there? No.

There was a limitation clearly, in terms of the amount of content that we needed to build a proper global mapping solution. So, over that period from 2005 to today, what we’ve really worked on hard is making our maps complete and global in their content.

One of the big differences, in terms of building these databases, going off and collecting imagery. You know I users told us very early that the imagery was really powerful. It told you things that you could see beyond the traditional cartographic map. We collected vertical photography, the satellite view you’ll be familiar with in Google Maps and Google Earth.

We had that ultimate level of zoom that is street view and, increasingly, we’re now collecting what we call 45-degree, or oblique, photography which is like you’re looking out of an airplane. You see the sides of the building rather than just the tops of them. That’s useful in a number of different ways. Above and beyond just being easier to interpret.

The imagery that we now collect is much, much higher resolution. This is a hotel I visited in Oslo a month or so ago. This is the imagery of outside and you can see the people wandering around. We now deal with large volumes of data to give you some idea, another kind of data point. Remember I said we went off and we collected all of that imagery in 2005 for Google Earth, said, “We’ll do it for the whole globe.” We now collect that same amount of imagery as we had in total in 2005, every two weeks and refresh the Google mapping products with that amount of [inaudible 09:17] data.

Although the data is just street view, the ultimate level of zoom, going down and standing on the street corner and seeing details that won’t appear in any map. Information about, well, these are paving stones here but there’s cobblestones on the road. The fact that you can go and look at the menus in the restaurants. You can see that there’s actually quite a nice park that you wouldn’t necessarily get from a view from the map or the aerial photography. You get all sorts of details that are just not apparent to you from traditional mapping.

We’re very keen on street view. We think it adds enormously to the information you get from maps. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort going to collect street view imagery everywhere. And we literally do mean everywhere. It’s not just San Francisco, because everyone has to map San Francisco, it’s northern Norway or it’s Sydney or it’s South Africa or, my favorite, it’s Antarctica. I love this one of Antarctica because you can see the normal peg man has turned into a penguin, as you would expect.

Street view, as you know, is collected by various methods of basically getting a panoramic picture of a location. We’ve driven about 8 million kilometers of roads capturing street view data. It’s had a huge impact on our users. It’s very popular. Everyone loves using it but we also discovered quite quickly that it was quite valuable in us in terms of using it internally.

Starting, as I said, to go beyond this idea of the digital street atlas, to start to collect really rich content in our mapping that just wouldn’t be available anywhere else. We started an internal project called, “Ground Truth”. Ground Truth really is about building really the next generation of maps, above and beyond what you might this is a normal map on the web.

It starts with base data, be that data we’ve been able to acquire from mapping agencies around the world or from actually driving those street view vehicles, combining with aerial photography and most interestingly, combined with the imagery that we’ve acquired from street view. Where this gets clever, I think, is adding computer vision to that street view data. Of saying, “OK, give it a go with these rich images of all of these streets, what can we identify?”

Well, we can think of cycle paths and one-way streets and parking restrictions and the business names and addresses and the actual spelling on the street as opposed to perhaps what we’ve might have found from a database. This is building a completely new class of mapping product which is the real data, as if it’s the data from the ground. That’s what you now find in Google Maps on your phone, on your website, and everywhere else.

See how this has changed, in 2008, we acquired most of our data from licensing from other companies. Then we turned that into Google maps. Where we are today in 2012, you can see it’s a different picture. Yes, we do license some data but there’s a huge amount of data that now Ground Truth, a Google-sourced data. It’s very rich content that comes from those sources I talked about.

The other thing that’s different and I think really important, you can see from that map there, are the blue areas. We’ve gone from mapping 22 countries to mapping 187 countries. The big growth has actually come from user contributed mapping. Actually asking the local experts to help us out. There are many parts of the world where it’s difficult for us to do street view and there’s no data to license. In those places, I use those helpers.

Those places are places you might be quite familiar with. OK, quiz question, which city am I talking about here? Casablanca, very good. Casablanca, four years ago, there was pretty much a blank on the map because there was no source of mapping data. There’s the internet and there’s a community of really keen, enthusiastic experts that want to get access to all the richness that comes when you have maps.

This is what happened in our movie of Casablanca. We start off with nothing, and within, this is a period of a year, this is how the map of Casablanca was created. That’s pretty rich. It contains all the street names. It contains the information that is interestingly important to the people that live in Casablanca. It’s where the mosques are, where the markets are, where people meet, things that you might not normally collect if you were just building a map of the world. This is the local content that’s important to them.

So maps have moved a long way. We’ve been able to get maps now of these 187 countries around the world. The challenge we always have is that the world keeps changing. And as soon as you make a map, it’s almost out of date. Well, we now have tools available both on the web and on mobile devices for our users to tell us when we’re making mistakes.

At the bottom of the screen there, you can see it says ‘Report a Problem’.
If I click on that, this is what happens. Here I’m reporting a problem with my driving directions. You can see there’s a turn here and then you’re going to say, “Well that turn onto Belgrave Road, I’m going to report a problem because I don’t think it’s right. The turn left there, I think that’s a turn that’s not possible”. I’ll send that review and it goes to one of our experts.

We have experts around the world that moderate all of the changes to make sure that you can’t just contribute anything. They’ll check does it seem sensible. They’ll check with street view data. We’ve built our own GIS package to manage this process to keep the data up to date.

I think, without question, we are now at the point where we have this very rich mapping platform with data that is richer than has ever been available before. That is what we’re making available to you today in a lot of the tools that you’re going to hear about later this afternoon. Mapping of a quality that’s globally accessible that has never been available before.

But, what are we going to do next? We talked about going beyond maps. Let’s talk about going beyond the beyond maps. Where might we go next? The first one, and it’s probably one that you’re reasonably familiar with is this idea of making use of the power of our modern computers. Now we have on our laptops, perhaps even more amazingly on our mobile devices, hugely powerful computers. Things that a decade or so ago that were work stations that you spend hundreds of thousands of pounds over, we now carry around in our pockets.

It means that we can do visualization of data in a way that’s far more sophisticated than a traditional cartographic map. So let me present to you, your own personal helicopter view of the world. And it starts from capturing that oblique 45-degree imagery. We can use that 45-degree imagery to create 3D models of the world that are above and beyond what was traditionally possible in Google Earth.

Here we have that 3D model from the imagery, now acquiring the textures from the imagery. And you can see this looks different than Google Earth because it’s consistent. It was captured, in effect, in one go so all the shadows work consistently and every pixel in the image has 3D attached to it. That means, not only the buildings are in 3D but the trees, the cars, everything that you see in the image, is in real 3D. It allows you to fly over and get this very immersive, realistic view of the world. So you’re looking at two combinations of technology there.

One, the ability to fly this kind of 45-degree oblique imagery combined with the great power of the computers that we have. Now this isn’t going to replace traditional mapping but it’s a nice way of adding that other visualization.

The next area I want to talk about is perhaps a bit more of a step change. About 70% of our time, if we live in the urbanized west, is actually spent indoors; at homes, in offices, in shops, if you’re like me, stuck in airports most of the time. That’s an area that we, as GIS people and geospatial technologists in general, have struggled with. Maybe the next big challenge is to map the great indoors rather than the great outdoors.

Let me take you to our local department store from Google in Victoria. This is Peter Jones on Sloane Square made in Chelsea’s local corner shop. A very nice store, very good value. It’s great. It’s John Lewis. John Lewis came to ask when they were installing Wi-Fi in the store, saying, “We doing Wi-
Fi, people will want to do shopping, getting access to data and anything else we can think about?” Ah-ha, we have a good idea about that. What we want to be able to do is to map the indoors of places like this.

Now if I go into John Lewis and I pull out my mobile phone, I have a map representation of the store and my location in the store. Let me zoom in a little bit. You can see where I am on that little blue arrow there and you can see the layout of the store. For this to operate, this to work, I need Wi-Fi to tell me whereabouts I am in the store. In this case, the store owner has provided me with the floor plans.

If you want to try this out and you have an android phone, if you go down to King’s Cross Railway Station, it works inside King’s Cross Railway Station. You can wander around and find out whereabouts you are using exactly the same app as you were using to get to King’s Cross Railway Station.

There’s no reason now, just because you’ve gone inside that your map should stop working. It also saves you from that really embarrassing situation if you’re an Irish priest, of ending up in the laundry department. Because you can put a geo fence around that and make sure you never get there.

OK. Being that I’m from Google, I now want to present you a commercial break.

[Commercial 19:56 - 20:23] I don’t know, for some reason, they only ever showed that ad once. I like it. Personally, I thought that was quite good. That was from Garmin, your friends at Garmin produce SatNavs, it’s got an in-car GPS. I think it made a really interesting point in quite an amusing way. This is, perhaps, something that we might argue is a bit controversial.

The map of the future is not a map. We want to get away from the mapasaurus. We need to think in the future about the importance of geospatial technology and data and organizing geographical content but think of maps differently. Maybe the maps of the future won’t look like maps. Even today, you know, maps are changing quite subtly I suppose.

This is my area, my part of the world, Teddington in Southwest London and this is my own personal map. No one else will see this map. It’s unique to me. When I go to Google maps, this is the map that I see. It’s unique to me because I’ve logged in. You can see the little icon at the top there that says I’ve logged into my Google account. That’s using information about me to customize my map.

You can see in the middle of the map, well, let me point to you, there, that little icon represents where I live. That’s my home. Only I will see that and you’ll see a couple of the other businesses around Teddington are highlighted, they have a kind of yellow fuzz around them. Those are businesses I visit more frequently and I’ve reviewed, perhaps I’ve interacted with more frequently. They’re more important to me.

Those similar, sort of, businesses all around the world will be highlighted. If I’m visiting, I don’t know, Hong Kong and I’d been there six years ago and I stayed in a hotel but I can’t remember which one it was, it will be highlighted on my personal map. It’s something that’s relevant to me. Now think about it, we are generating now personal maps potentially for everybody that wants to see one.

Maps are becoming more and more customized to our needs because they make more sense that way. Why should every map be the same? Maps should customize themselves to my own particular requirements. Maybe, as I said, sometimes the map needs to get out of the way.

Let me take you through a day in my life. It starts off with a bowl of cereal. There’s no particular geographical reference or use in the bowl of cereal, I just put it there because it was a nice piece of clip art. The beginning of the day starts with me leaving home and pulling out my mobile phone. You can see it’s got a picture of my kids on it. What I’m going to do with my mobile phone is literally just take my thumb and slide it up to the top.

On my android phone, this launches a service called Google Now. Google Now is content that is customized and contextualized very, very personally. When I do this, this is the information I see. It says, “OK, I can see from your calendar that you’re going to be on this flight between London City Airport and Nice. At the moment it’s departing on time. I can give you directions from where you are to London City Airport by driving and it’s going to take 55 minutes.”

I’ve not explicitly asked for any of that information but it knows that information about me from my mobile phone. It so happens that that 55 minutes, I’m sure, is pretty accurate because it’s looking at the current driving conditions on a number of routes between where I am and London City Airport. Being a Londoner, I’m more likely to take the public transport, so here are the public transport directions. Again, in real time looking at the current conditions of the network and how long it’s going to take me from my current location to London City Airport.

When I get to London City Airport, as you can see, it’s a nice day, it gives me the local weather forecast, gives me translation tools and it gives me the exchange rate. Again, I haven’t asked for that information, it’s given me that information based on my location. That’s contextually driven content delivered to me on my mobile phone with geo being a major component of that.

What’s changing is not the importance of the geographic content but how it’s delivered and how I interact with it. And there’s a broader trend here. It’s the end of the generation of computing that came from this location. From street view, I present to you, the Xerox Park Laboratory. Those of you that know your IT history will know that Windows, nice laser printers, networking all developed in this one place. The computers they were used to using for the last few years, all came from here.

Those computers are meeting the end of their lives because the next computing platform may look very, very different. It might look like this.

[Video 25:20 - 27:50] That’s the famous “Google Glass” concept video. The key thing about that is, yes, although the computing platform is going to be different, “Glass” is, a lot of what you saw there was the same basic platform, the same underlying technology, that we’ve been talking about in those other examples and the mobile phone and so on. It’s powered by Geo. It’s powered by the platform that we’ve built.

We live in really exciting times. We live in an age of ambient information where there’s a combination of the physical world and the virtual world. With that combination, the overlap, is where magic happens. And magic means, as Arthur C. Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Our role in life, increasingly, is to produce these magical solutions that just work and provide the information that our users need and want to get access to. That’s what we try to build.

The platform behind all of this really sexy and sophisticated technology is making maps and making accurate maps and finding out where things are, making sure that we’re on top of that, that game. It’s hard to do. Some think that, you know, it’s taken us 10 years or so to learn how to do it properly. You, as you will learn from the presentations through the rest of the day, are getting access now to that platform and embedding it potentially within your businesses.

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Tags: google maps, Local SEO, Video

One Response to “1 in 3 Searches are Local”

  1. Makes sense. Most of us are looking for prosucts or services within driving distance – during lunch or after work. Local SEO marketing, here we come.

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