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Google and wrong stuff

As a sort of appendix to my last entry, I have another thing I wish to moan about. And yes, it’s about Google again.

This time, it’s about quality control.

The main reason that Google got significant traction in the early days of the internet was that it worked. They offered something that was much better than the alternatives. Your search results were (gasp) relevant. This was a theme that continued as they launched their other bits and pieces - Maps, Gmail etc. These things all worked and were high quality.

As I mentioned last time, Google seem to be shifting their focus. What was once a ‘lets build good cool stuff for the world and hope that brings value to advertisers’ is now a more ruthless ‘lets focus on a few things and maximize our profitability’. There’s many good reasons for this shift. However, while many people run into issues when that means a popular service gets shut down (see Google Reader), I have a particular problem when they make an existing product worse. Many people have an issue with Gmail’s new interface. My bugbear is Maps.

If you’ve not encountered the new Google Maps, you will do at some point. In many ways, it’s much better than the old one: it’s clearer, uses fancy new technology like GPU rendering, makes better use of screen estate. However, in terms of functionality, it’s worse. This is the most important thing.

For example. I was in Iceland. I was in a place called Husavik. I wanted to find a petrol station. I’m British, so I call it a petrol station. I search Google Maps (on Android) for ‘petrol station’. It takes me to Texas.

This is not useful.

It turns out, that I should be searching for ‘gas station’. Of all the companies in the world who have data on local language usage, and specific user preferences, you’d have thought Google should be able to get this stuff right. The ‘new maps’ feels a little bit half baked, released in a bit of a rush without giving much thought to what made Google so popular in the first place. I lost count of the number of times that I went to search for something in maps and wound up with a result that was on a completely different continent.

Hopefully they can sort this out. There’s a bunch of other things that are also missing from the new maps (e.g. multi-leg travel routes) that Google are apparently promising to deliver ‘soon’. Whatever ‘soon’ means. I’m optimistic that this will get better, but only just.