When I lived in Mumbai, it took me months to figure out how to navigate the city. Rickshaws, trains, and taxis were easy enough — it was how to communicate where I wanted to go that was the problem.
People didn’t pay attention to addresses – they knew building names. They didn’t say “the intersection of X & Y streets” – they knew the name of the chowk or square at that location. Bafflingly, people didn’t even seem to know street names – as I came to learn, the official names on the map were often recent impositions and virtually unused.
I learned to navigate by landmark: VT station, Shivaji Park, BKC, Shoppers Stop, Haji Ali. Choose a ballpark destination, then zero in from there with turn-by-turn directions based on shops, statues, parks, and buildings – not street names!
So you can imagine how useless online maps were. Although Google Maps technically covered Mumbai (which I found amazing enough), actually using it was out of the question…until now! The Google Maps team in India has been busy trying to solve this problem: “Go thataway: Google Maps India learns to navigate like a local.”
Have you ever been lost? Perhaps you missed a turn because a street sign was poorly labeled, hard to see in the dark, or just not where it should have been? These are problems we’ve all faced, but they’re especially complicated in India, where street names are not commonly known and the typical wayfinding strategy is to ask someone on the street.
To solve this problem, this week we launched an improvement to Google Maps India that describes routes in terms of easy-to-follow landmarks and businesses that are visible along the way.
I can’t tell you how useful this would have been to me when I first moved to India! Check out more details on the Google blog.