There has been a lot of buzz lately about Google's potentially premature move from TeleAtlas to their own data for Google Maps. James Fee and Paul Bissett, among dozens of others, have pointed out data quality problems and wondered about Google's motivations. For my own part, I have been wondering about the role of Google in the world of transportation data providers.
To begin with, lets be clear about Google's motivations. Google is in the business of delivering online advertising. Period. Google is not in the business of transportation logistics, emergency vehicle routing, or personal navigation. Google's interest in location is in delivering geographically targeted advertising. To that end, they need to provide a location application that you want to use often enough on your phone or laptop to support the local advertising business model. So, if you get the information you need as you are walking around an unfamiliar city "most of the time", you are likely to continue to use Google Maps on your phone and support the local advertising business that helps to drive Google's profitability. As long as you aren't relying on Google maps for business-critical routing to your destination then you can probably put up with some occasional errors in the underlying base map data. The fact that Google is counting on your willingness to tolerate a fair amount of errors in your phone's ability to route you somewhere is good news for the manufacturers of personal navigation devices like Garmin and Tom Tom for the time being. If you really do need to get where you are going reliably, you will be willing to pay for that ability. By paying a company like TeleAtlas or Navteq to provide our transportation data, we expect that the data we receive will be of very high quality and that we will be able to reliably route ourselves to our destination.
So, what are your thoughts? Is Google Streets data good enough for your requirements or will you be holding on to your personal navigation device for a while longer? And how about Open Street Map? Is that data set complete enough for your needs?