Tele Atlas's Community and Map Insight

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Tele Atlas‘s October set of mapping data will include 55,000 updates that were made by Tomtom GPS customers. Tomtom only finished the acquisition of Tele Atlas in June. This the first time that we are seeing the device manufacturer’s data directly enhance Tele Atlas’s maps.

The Tomtom GPS updates come via their Map Insight program (Radar post). There two types of updates: active and passive. Active updates require customer action such as marking a street blocked. Passive updates can occur when Tele Atlas notices people taking a new road. All of the updates are anonymous and voluntary. A certain number of people must make the same update for the data to reach the accepted, to-be-vetted threshold. Any Tomtom customer can benefit from the updates (in fact people can choose between vetted and unvetted, anything-goes updates).

Tele Atlas refers to the passive updates as Anonymous Collaboration. They are going to start using people’s driving habits to influence their routing algorithms. If enough people drive down a certain street at a certain time future devices will start to recommend that to other customers. My fear is that suddenly secret routes will become flooded. Will people start to turn off their GPSs to avoid sharing their shortcuts?

Map Insight is a work in progress and hasn’t always anticipated customer behavior. People like to play with their GPSs update features. Last December, right after Christmas, the Map Insight servers started receiving a large amount of block/unblock updates. It turns out people were blocking their street to confirm the feature worked and then correcting the data afterwards — not realizing the confusion it was causing at the Tele Atlas headquarters.

I learned about this update during Patrick McDevitt’s talk at the Web 2.0 Expo Europe. In the talk he also discussed how they realize that there are changes. They used to rely heavily on aerial imagery and look for changes in the Earth’s geometry (new lanes and buildings) . They still do (and the hi-tech process relies on computer vision), but they now find that they can get more data from the web. They crawl government sites and environmental agencies looking for change notices. As Patrick said to me afterwards, “these are highly planned events, but non-uniform”. Upon learning about a change they contact the agency and get the details. If the change is significant enough cars from the Tele Atlas fleet are sent (an expensive, but necessary endeavor).

Latency is now the key business challenge data companies face. How fast can they get the updates and how fast can they get them to customers? In time it’s going to depend on how fast they can get updates from their customers. In the latency battle between Tele Atlas/Tomtom and NAVTEQ/Nokia, the T’s have hit the first victory.

Patrick’s Web 2.0 Expo Europe Talk