Is Social Mapping the Future?

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My neighbor has run over my last two phonebooks and rendered them virtually unusable. We share the same driveway, and it appears that running over phonebooks, and then backing up to make sure they are dead has officially become a custom in Virginia, or at least in my neighborhood. It’s OK though since I can’t remember the last time I’ve used a phone book. I may have a couple of times earlier this century, but I’m not sure. I haven’t used one in the past couple of years (my neighbor keeps killing them).

On the Fourth of July, Apple published a patent application that describes Routes based on User Ratings and Real-Time Accident Reporting. Both Apple and Google have been using GPS information to monitor and report upon gridlock and traffic speed estimates, but imagine both providing a richer and fuller social experience involving the world around them. Imagine being able to choose different routes and see social annotations added to different options on those routes. Here’s a screenshot from Apple’s patent filing:

A screenshot from the Apple patent application showing many alternative routes, including choices such as Scenic Route, Light Traffic, No Construction, and Smooth Roads.

Regardless of the new Apple patent filing, Google has a rich and comparatively mature offering when it comes to roadside maps and navigation. However, like most of the search, it could probably be considered in its infancy. It’s been replacing print versions of both telephone books and streetmaps, with maps and navigation capable of automatically updating in what seems like real-time. Google described their crowdsensus algorithm a couple of years ago, in a whitepaper which talks about how people can help correct maps for the search engine. I wrote about it in the post, Are You Trusted by Google?

A screenshot from the Apple patent application showing more details about the kind of information available about one of the alternative routes, including choices such as Scenic, Light Traffic, No Food, and more, with a time estimate of 15 minutes and a distance estimate of 9 miles.

The post was also about Google looking at social signals, and possibly adding a social element to search by creating social reputation scores that might influence Web search results. At the time of the post, Google had published an updated version of the Agent Rank patent that told us that not every endorsement (or +1) might carry the same weight. Different endorsements from different people might have more weight-based on how trusted and authoritative they might be in a specific topic, and others might have less.

The Apple patent appears to focus upon adding a more social element to Apple’s Maps, and one of the features looks like a rating and review aspect showing in the patent:

A screenshot from the Apple patent application enabling travelers to report accidents, heavy traffic, power outages, blocked roadways, protestors, and likely more.

Apple published a patent application in 2011 that also describes how they might use crowdsourcing to rank different businesses and places on maps as well, by looking at where people go related to Apple’s Maps, and how long they might stay there. My post is Crowdsourcing Behind New Apple Local Search Patent.

For instance, several people who appear to be commuting from their homes in the morning (breakfast time) tend to stop at a diner in Cupertino and spend enough time there to eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, and so on. That dinner tends to be more popular than other local dinners, so it might be ranked higher than other diners, even though there isn’t an express form that someone might have filled out. But having people provide more details to maps could be even better than making assumptions like that.

The maps shown in Apple’s Fourth of July patent filing would then be annotated with the locations of reported accidents, heavy traffic, power outages, blocked roadways, protestors, etc. The patent is:

User-Specified Route Rating and Alerts
Invented by Jorge S. Fino
Assigned to Apple Inc.
US Patent Application 20130173155
Published July 4, 2013
Filed: December 28, 2011


In some implementations, a user can provide ratings for routes, streets and/or locations. In some implementations, the user can initiate an alert associated with a location. In some implementations, user-specified ratings and alerts can be included in a route determination. In some implementations, route rating and alert information can be transmitted to other users and/or devices.

Waze and Social Mapping

Google isn’t sitting still for the socialization of Apple Maps.

Not too long ago, Facebook was supposedly negotiating with a company building social maps, a mapping social software company founded in Israel in 2008. The offer for the company was rumored to be over $ 1 Billion. The transaction supposedly fell through because the Waze team didn’t want to relocate from Israel.

Apple was also a target of rumors about an acquisition of Waze, but that was before the Apple social mapping patent application was made public.

On June 11th, the Official Google Blog announces the acquisition of Waze in the post Google Maps and Waze, outsmarting traffic together.

I took a look at the patent filings assigned to Waze at the USPTO, to get a better idea of what they had spent time and effort and energy researching and working upon.

The following patent application describes a navigation system that updates in real-time based upon checking and determining if any alternative routes were more optimal to a final destination:

Device, system, and method of dynamic route guidance
Invented by Israel Disatnik, Yuval Shmuelevitz, and Uri Levine
US Patent Application 20110098915
Published April 28, 2011
Filed: October 28, 200


Device, system, and method of dynamic route guidance. For example, a method includes: calculating an optimal route from a first location, in which a navigation device is located, to a destination point entered by a user of the said navigation device; receiving from the navigation device a travel update, indicating that the navigation device is located in a second location, wherein the second location is on said optimal route; and based on real-time traffic information and real-time road information, determining that an alternate route, from the second location to the destination point, is now an optimal route to the destination point.

This next patent presents what looks like a local TV channel for you, based upon reported local incidents displayed in a live feed.

Device, System and Method of Television Broadcasting of Live Feed from Mobile Devices
Invented by Samuel Keret, Uri Levine, Amir Shinar, Ehud Shabtai, and Yuval Shmuelevitz
Assigned to WAZE, INC.
US Patent Application 20120284755
Published November 8, 2012
Filed: March 28, 2012

Embodiments of the present invention are directed toward a device, system, and method of television broadcasting of live feed from mobile devices. A client application residing on a mobile device allows a user of the mobile device to provide real-time reporting of an event to a central location that is configured to broadcast such live feed. A broadcaster can invite a user to provide the live feed. Besides a user can propose to the broadcaster that the user, who is located in the proximity of a news-worthy event, is willing to commence a live feed. The broadcaster can accept or reject the proposal and modify or negotiate the terms of the transfer of the live feed. The live feed is typically incorporated substantially in real-time within a live broadcast.

This next one describes how traffic might be estimated, and alternative routes might be suggested:

System and method for real-time community information exchange
Invented by Uri Levine, Amir Shinar, and Ehud Shabtai
US Patent Application 20090287401
Published November 19, 2009
Filed: May 19, 2008


System and method for traffic mapping service are disclosed for allowing a plurality of users having each a navigation device to transmit their locations to a server and optionally to signal to the server their requested destination. The system and method are further capable of calculating traffic parameters such as current traffic speed at a given road based on the momentary locations of the users. The system and method of the invention may also calculate and advise the users of preferred roads to take to arrive at the requested location with minimum delay.

Apple, Google, and Yahoo have also shown an interest in helping people find parking in the past. The following Waze patent also provides ways to find places to park as well:

System and method for parking time estimations
Invented by Uri Levine, Amir Shinar, and Ehud Shabtai
Assigned to Waze Mobile Ltd
US Patent 7,936,284
Granted May 3, 2011
Filed: August 27, 2008


The invention provides a system for parking time estimations, the system comprising at least one device able to sense at least momentary location and respective time; and an application server to receive from a plurality of the devices time series of location points and to calculate, based on the received time series of location points, duration of searches for parking spots. The invention provides a method for parking time estimations, the method comprising detecting beginning of searching for a parking spot by a user of a device able to sense at least momentary location and respective time; detecting the time of parking, and calculating at least estimated duration of searching for a parking spot.

This last patent is more about making sure that a mobile device using other location-based services applications like the ones described above are properly working, that they have enough power, that GPS is engaged and working the way it should be, and more.

Condition-based activation, shut-down and management of applications of mobile devices
Invented by Uri Levine, Amir Shinar, and Ehud Shabtai, and Yuval Shmuelevitz
Assigned to Waze Mobile Ltd
US Patent 8,271,057
Granted September 18, 2012
Filed: March 16, 2009


Device, system, and method of condition-based activation, shut-down, and management of applications of mobile devices. For example, a method includes: based on one or more collected information items, determining whether or not a condition related to a mobile device is true; and based on the determination, controlling a monitored application of the mobile device by performing at least one of: activating the monitored application; shutting down the monitored application; activating a feature of the monitored application; deactivating a feature of the monitored application; and switching the monitored application from a first mode of operation to a second, different, mode of operation.

The Future of Mapping is Social

There’s a certain element of irony to say that our phones have become our phonebooks as well. Carrying around the Yellow Pages in our pockets would never work, at least not a printed copy that doesn’t update as roads change and businesses move locations.

If you go to the Waze website, you can read about “community-edited maps,” about local gas prices as reported upon by users, about the real-time locations of speed traps and accidents and road construction. Your driving can be in sync with that of your friends who might be going to the same destination.

Google has provided many location-based services, including advertising in the form of local alerts. With both Apple and Google making driving a more social-based activity, hopefully, people will be keeping their eyes on the road when driving (something commentators in my post on Parameterless Searches were concerned about, worried that people shaking their phones while driving, to see if there was traffic congestion ahead, were concerned about.

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11 thoughts on “Is Social Mapping the Future?”

  1. How interesting that protestors would be factored into crowds and mapping. Here in Charleston (SC) your travel time is more likely to be slowed down by parades or festivals than protestors!

  2. I am not quite sure where all this is leading and whether it will work in the way it is intended in helping people getting from a to b with less hassle and quicker. The concept is really good but the teething problems could be huge. Lee

  3. Community edited maps are definitely the way of the future. The ability to create online applications that can better leverage the average person’s observations is something that was never possible before, and I only expect to see more creative applications of this concept in the future. Great post.

  4. You think they would stop printing the phone books( I got two on our doorstep the other day) but I think it is the elderly population from my experience that still reads local papers and most likely phone books but we do need to keep our eyes on the road; I think with the latest tech. we can at least have an app or device that will help us avoid using our phones in the car but that map site look cool.

  5. In Australia our phone books are still delivered in paper format. Most of us throw them straight in the recycling bin. I wish wish we could opt-out of getting phone books deliveredand save acres of timber forest. Can you opt out in the UK?

  6. Thanks, Solomon,

    Given the scope of maps (they are everywhere), it makes sense to crowd source the editing of maps, and letting people share information on the world around them does change things significantly. I agree that we’re going to see a lot more creative uses of social sharing in the future as well.

  7. Hi John,

    I believe I’ve opted out of receiving phone books in the past, and the last couple of phone books in my driveway may have been my neighbors (we share a driveway). Hopefully your phone company’s will understand that they should offer that option.

  8. Hi Christopher,

    I do think that there is a percentage of the population that still uses the phone book, but one that is diminishing over time. With navigation devices in cars, and phones that double as navigation devices, the idea of running a mapping or navigation device isn’t bad. But doing things like texting or talking on the phone while driving isn’t a very good idea.

  9. I also found it interesting that protestors were mentioned… kind of makes one wonder what this tracking is all really for anyway. Mapping was bound to become directly tied to social activity, great article.

  10. It will be impressive when you can run an app and it will track your route in real time. Knowing the speed you should be moving on a particular road and what your actual speed is and simultaneously reporting to other app users if this is a road you should avoid. Then taking that information and applying it simultaneously to google map users who are using navigation. The Navigation app will automatically pick the fastest route while avoiding the slow areas. It will happen eventually.

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