Category Archives: Indian GIS Industry

What Google did, makes me sad

Recently, Google launched landmark-intelligent driving directions for Indian subcontinent and evangelized it globally via four blog posts (1 | 2 | 3 | 4) as an innovative approach to make driving directions better and more meaningful.

When I read the news, I had mixed feelings. On one hand it gives me pleasure that our innovation “landmark-intelligent driving directions” is recognized globally, while on the other hand it’s a big disappointment about how Google has articulated the whole story (refer below)

… During a trip to the Google engineering office in Bangalore, our driving directions engineers got a chance to learn firsthand how drivers navigate in India. We discovered that street signs or names tend to be less important than landmarks … … In India, we have a lot of great landmark data available through user-entered “Points of Interest” in Google Map Maker …

I feel sad for our young and small team, who pioneered the whole concept, put everything in our lives at stake to chase a dream of “changing the way directions are consumed in India and globally” and actively evangelized the idea since 2007 at multiple platforms (Proto, Barcamps, MoMo Delhi/Bangalore, NASSCOM), covered highly by various media groups (like CIOL, ET, CNBC, NDTV, i.t. Magz, Pluggd.in, WebYantra, Sahara Samay and plenty of reputed bloggers) including spending time in educating the Google India team about the suitability of landmark-intelligence based directions to Indian conditions.

Today I understand what my history teacher used to say – “History is always written by the winner of the war”. Seems Google is so keen to take credit for this innovation that they did not even care to mention our brief interaction and their own acknowledgement that this was truly innovative.  For a company with the corporate motto – “Don’t be Evil” this shocks violently. It would have been really nice to see such a respected company patronizing a young and creative team rather than stealing credit in this manner.

I don’t say that Google can’t come up with the similar idea but the fact that it has already been validated and tested over the years can’t be ignored and whole world can’t be duped with the charming story that Google formulates about how their Bangalore engineers observed the problem to eventually bring this innovation to ground.

But one thing I have learnt in my entrepreneurial journey is to pick myself up when I am down, brush off the dirt and get going again and think of what newer opportunities such incidents bring along.

How Google’s launch can be good for RouteGuru?

1. It is certainly motivating as the Google’s launch is a big validation for the fact that landmark-based driving directions are the way to go in countries like India. Google’s buzz brings a lot of credibility to our vision. In fact, we’re already seeing new interest in our technology and business.

2. Learning that the leading independent analysts have pointed out that Google has implemented the concept already established by RouteGuru is very motivating. For us it’s a moment of pride that we could foresee, envision and implement a concept that Google ended up implementing almost 3 years later. Please refer to the links below:

Google Maps Mania,

Pluggd.in

3. A few appreciations and partnership interests have come our way from various parts of the world e.g. North Africa, UK etc. acknowledging our vision, strengths and the splendid work done, soon after this news went public. We’re very happy to see recognition by those who may not have known us otherwise at all. I wish I could let the whole world know about it.

4. Google is struggling to build leadership position in China, Japan and Korean markets for search. Perhaps we can partner with the local search leaders and offer them competing solutions to better Google’s offering.

What now?

This comes as no surprise as it was only a matter of time before one of the Internet giants realized the strategic importance of “landmark intelligence within driving directions”. Many of our admirers, friends, regular users, bloggers and journalists are contacting us to learn, “What now?”, “What it really means for RouteGuru?”, “Is it really the end of story?

I candidly want to communicate that it’s a good lesson for us about what can it really mean when big companies talk to you and how we end up communicating many things unknowingly. It’s an emotional hurt to see someone else reaping the benefit of an innovation pioneered by us and for the small entity that we are, we can only feel helpless.

However, this certainly is not the end of story. On the contrary, it opens up newer opportunities with the global markets waking up to the concept and we hope to build alliances to fight with anyone in our expertise area (I’ll soon write in detail about why I feel the Google’s story looks fluffy and why RouteGuru still has a better solution than Google).

After a period of lull, I feel energetic again and confident that we will come back much more strongly soon.  Stay tuned for more.

Map portals trail badly in vernacular content

India has 427 spoken languages and it stands 4th worldwide for maximum number of local languages.

I was pretty surprised to know some of the facts like:

  • Hindi is the 3rd most spoken language worldwide.
  • Bengali is 8th most spoken language worldwide.
  • Punjabi is 11th most spoken language worldwide.

While two of the Indian languages figure in the top 10 charts of the spoken languages worldwide, the interesting and surprising fact is that none of the Indian language figure in the top 10 charts of Internet languages.

Besides this, IAMAI also did a study which found out that total number of internet portals delivering the content in one of the Indian regional language looks to be very demotivating at just 1249.

vernacular-reach

Above table shows the breakup of the regional content portals across 8 major languages in India.

Language Patterns

While Hindi scored the highest; Tamil, Telugu and Bengali trailed behind by a huge gap.

Marathi has the least number of portals, while population-wise Mumbai is the third largest city in the world. Kannada is as bad as Marathi, being even the silicon valley of India.

Wondering if it is the technology constraint in these cities or that the English domination is much more here?

Category Patterns

Among all the categories, Map portals show the widest gap of delivering the vernacular content. Pretty much the time for GIS/ LBS industry to really think about the masses and get local in real sense; not just for the heck of saying it.

I think it is only Yahoo Maps that provide vernacular content for the Indian region today, while Microsoft and Google are far behind.

Wondering what Rediff, Indiatimes, Sify guys are actually doing in this space? Building their own expertise? If yes, it may be long for them to go vernacular in real sense in the Maps space.

Would love to see what Nokia India is really upto!

Why Sat Nav(s) are not for Indian consumers?

While there is no first hand data available for India, there are survey results by AA (Automobile Association) members for US. The behavioral aspects of the consumers in that region, certainly reveal interesting facts when correlated with the habits of consumers and the geographical challenges in India.

The survey conducted with 7,380 drivers in November 2008 revealed:

1. Approx. 75% of respondent who have Sat Nav still carry a road atlas.

Isn’t it worth noting? This clearly outlines the fact that majority of the drivers fear that there is a possibility to get mislead by the Sat Nav (Personal Navigation Device or PND).

This is even important to note because the navigation and exit signs on road are very well marked in US and the addressing system is extremely systematic compared to the Indian scenario, where even most local residents may look confused in guiding you to your destination location, forget about the navigation device. We all know for one how badly does India suffer with the navigation planning where road names are not marked on the roads at all and the notion of exit signs doesn’t exist accept at a few places.

In essence, the promise of Sat Nav or the manufacturers to take you to your destination without getting lost is an absolute fallacy. In fact PND users have themselves communicated that these devices actually force you to go in a particular direction. They feel that it creates utter confusion  and adds to the indecisiveness on-the-move and leads to higher chances of getting lost on the road.

Satellite Navigation Device

Satellite Navigation Device

2. 30% of respondents confirmed that their Sat Nav has misguided them, 4% strongly agree that they are worried about getting misguided while 47% disagree that they are worried.

More than the majority i.e. 53% confirms to the explanation above i.e. about being misguided by the PNDs in real-time and it wouldn’t be a surprise if this percentage is more than 90% in the Indian scenario. In fact, it would be a surprise to see the actual percentage of people who are being guided greatly by these devices.

3. 22% of respondents agree that their Sat Nav device sometimes distracts them when they are driving. 33% seemed confused about it.

Breaking of traffic rules, poor driving habits and lack of patience among drivers are not new things to any one who has driven on Indian roads.

Add to this the visual noise across cities due to  unregulated/ corrupt adverting policies, the banners and hoarding are one of the major sources of distraction to these drivers.

Not to discount the fact of increasing mobile usage while driving among the drivers again.

Hence driving in India demands utmost focus, it is now very important to understand if there is really any room for additional distraction due to Sat Nav devices for the Indian drivers?

[Soon startups like CashUrDrive and Govt. initiatives allowing the advertising on moving vehicles will increase the reasons for distraction even more on the Indian roads.]

For the reasons above, I think the cost of device is not only in terms of hardware/software but also the cost of updating the maps/ data and the additional helplessness that they contribute to the driver on-the-move.

______________________________

However, there are other interesting insights about Sat Nav(s) that you might want to have a look at:

44% of the respondents use it very frequently. 54% belive it to tbe the best device for their car, 49% are worried that it might get stolen – Sheer love with their device, isn’t it?

18-24 age group is most likely to have Sat Nav (43%), while 25-34 age group is least likely to have Sat Nav (38%)

Men are more likely to own a Sat Nav (47%) than woman (30%).

And that the SatNav device is the most wanted gift item in the west.

______________________________

While I do not own a Sat Nav, after hearing the bad stories from the users, I do not even want to have one. It will however be interesting if someone has some good stories after using it in India.

[Source]

Mumbai attack : Geospatial industry

While delivering an inaugural speech at National Spatial Data Infrastructure (NSDI), Honorary Minister for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Mr. Kapil Sibal took up the case of recent terror attacks in Mumbai and expressed that to determine the exact location of each room inside unfortunate Taj and Trident hotels, 3D technology could have helped immensely.

NSDI

NSDI

Mr. Sibal informed that the Govt. is in the process of formulating a legislation to share geospatial data with both the public and private agencies. A bill in this regard, National Geospatial Data Regulatory Authority Bill, is to be introduced in the next session of Parliament and is likely to be cleared by the Cabinet by February 2009.

Other interesting thoughts that Mr. Sibal shared are:

  1. Creation of an independent regulatory authority to determine and regulate the distribution of data seamlessly amongst various Govt. departments and other stake holders.
  2. Highlighted the view that data to be used for public good should be available free of cost and that people should be able to add value to it so that the industry can be benefited.
  3. Emphasized the critical role of geospatial technologies in a nation’s internal security.

He even opined for Govt. to be proactive rather than being restrictive and reactive and admitted to the bureaucratic hassles that impede technological advances in the country.

It will surely be interesting to see what really comes out of this planning and this bill, whether the Bill really gets cleared this February at all or not. It’s been a long time that I have been hearing ministers like Kapil Sibal and Kamal Nath and the promises that they deliver at the inauguration speech. However, things are serious this time around and I hope this really gets done now.

An important aspect for Govt. would be to utilize the crowd sourcing concept really efficiently, which again seems a distant possibility. As it is the only way to have an edge over the private players like Navtech and Tele-Atlas who will be differentiated by the data freshness over the mere data availability by the Govt. [Source]

Let’s wait and watch.

Survey of India approved Maps for public distribution

Good news for all the GIS/ LBS companies in India.

After a very long wait, Survey of India approved digital maps will be available for public distribution. However, Tele Atlas Kalyani India will be the Value Added Reseller for these maps.

Survey of IndiaThe agreement allows Tele Atlas Kalyani India to release the first Survey of India-approved digital maps and custom map content within the public domain for commercial use in a range of navigation and location-based solutions in the mobile, internet, automotive, personal navigation system and enterprise markets.

The current release of navigable maps created by Tele Atlas Kalyani India are the first ever to be screened and approved for public release by the SOI, in full compliance with the regulations of the Government of India and the provisions of the National Mapping Policy.

What about direct availability?

Wondering will Survey of India make the digital maps available directly as well? Tele-Atlas being a Value Added Reseller will bundle it up with many rich features and provide it at a very high premium.

What’s in for startups and individual developers?

So, unless Tele-Atlas has exclusive and favorable licensing models for emerging companies and individual developers, this segment may still not be able to get access to these maps. However, good news is that SoI approved maps are at least available to public.

The Survey Of India under DST, is the oldest scientific department of the Government of India. Under the new National Map Policy, promulgated in 2005, the Survey of India has a nodal role in liberalising the dissemination of map data to the public domain.

One of the key elements of this policy is the Public Private Partnership program to enable the objectives of the Map Policy to provide, maintain and allow access to the National Topographic Database (NTDB) of the SOI conforming to national standards and to promote the use of geospatial knowledge and intelligence.

[Source]

Driving directions launch by Yahoo – An analysis

Although the GIS consumption in India is almost negligible, the pace with which the landscapes are moulding, cities are expanding outwards to the greener belts, heavy traffic conditions, emergence of giant flyovers/ Clover leaves, internet & mobile penetration etc etc has brought the need for better driving directions.

Till date the data collectors in India have survived only with the Govt. projects or the enterprise needs & this is the reason why they still lack decent consumer oriented data. Inspite of all this the GIS industry has seen a paradigm shift with some players moving up the value chain. While MapMyIndia offered a service first time relevant to the Indian boundaries, RouteGuru pioneered the idea of driving directions based on landmarks, however, today almost everyone has landmarks to offer while driving the consumers.

Detailed analysis of Yahoo India Maps & Driving Directions
Yahoo’s entry to the focussed driving directions in India at first seemed to be some sort of competition to me but soon I was delighted to realize how things are going to change in this sub-continent very soon w.r.t. GIS demand, consumption & acceptance.

After examining Y!’s recently launched service, it is apparent that they too suffer the several data related issues as does MapMyIndia. No wonder its only the same data vendor behind both of them, however, MapMyIndia still leads here because of the comprehensice feature set they already have & the support of their in-house data no doubt Y! has its own community to back them.

As per my observations, the driving directions by Y! are just average & only good for the Bird’s eye view through maps. Aspects that needs more attention are:

1. Providing landmarks is not the only solution, its the relevancy of the landmarks that eases the navigation. In my experiment with almost 10 routes in Delhi/ Bangalore I struggled to see any decent landmarks. Even if you carry the print-out of the current landmark based directions, it will even be difficult for the local auto-drivers to comprehend where the user is actually routed to? Relevancy of the landmark is something they need to work a lot around.

2. I was left surprised when it din’t recognize the Forum Mall in Bangalore, further trials for other famous POIs revealed the lack of POI names in the database, thus, the landmark names are relevant to the lines (roads) & Polys (localities, sub localities) but not points. Wondering what prevented them from including the point database?.

Also do not be surprised if you find a name for the road next to your house, which you always believed never existed. Now the question comes is, whether is it really helpful in navigating you from one point to the other?

Validation: A route from Kalkaji Mandir to Sukhdev Vihar in Delhi – Anybody can tell you the major landmark between the route is “Modi-Mills Flyover” but Y! tells “Bhakti Vedant Swami Marg flyover“. I have no idea if even the local street hawkers would know about that? Its not only in this particular route but a common problem.

3. On close examination, the shift in the satellite & graphical map images is also quite transparent, which is bound to happen as the data sources for both the images are different. Again wondering what sense would it make to the company?

4. Turn restriction information is something which they also struggle very badly with. It is so common a problem with almost every player today, I urge the data vendors to work little more onto it, however, I’m sure Yahoo must be pushing CEI to enhance the data with such information but then again the relationship between both of them need to be seen owing to the fact that CEI’s arm MapMyIndia stands in direct competition with Yahoo Maps now.

5. The selection of the POIs in the search field is quite non-intuitive & the fuzzy logic too doesn’t impress much.

6. They seem to have fixed this problem now.
The directions w.r.t. the roundabouts is again confusing. Lets say I have to take the 4th turn on the roundabout after I merge onto it from the road I’m coming from, the solution always guide you to take the further next turn i.e. 5th roundabout. This problem is so consistent everywhere that either they have considered the leaving road also as one turn or something which I couldn’t figure out. May be if someone can help me out with this!

7. Looking at the current service, another thought that sorrounds me is that this service is still motivated as a strategic move for the internet major rather than solving the problem in its own respect. Lack of any of the new killer feature surely disappointed me. I was quite sure to learn something new from their release. Anyway!

Some of the interesting things to notice are:

1. Faster Map rendering – The speed with which the map rendering is done is fantastic. This year (during May) Yahoo announced the discontinuation of De-Carta map engine RME to deploy an in-built Map rendering engine. This aspect is surely impressive & feeds confidence in Yahoo’ offering.

2. Soothing UI – Except their own dark red colored image on UI, it is innocent & immitates simplicity – a trend caught attention after Google’s homepage publicity.

3. Via Routing – Shoot a query “From A to B to C” takes the Via-routing considerations. Though it is no big deal but still makes it impressive with the initial offering.

All in all an average service, only good for the bird’s eye view for a route. Dependency on the names of POIs is highly debatable.

How Yahoo Maps will motivate competition?
While Y! Maps have done a good job than what is actually reflect in the analysis, what is to be noted is that it is actually the replica of something that is already in existence & nothing new (something strongly not expected from them & disappointed me). Rather than shrinking the opportunities for others, this offering will actually favor the startups operating in the similar space. Innovation in landmark based driving directions and to capture the confidence of the Indian audience are still a distant achievement.

It also signals an obligation for other horizontal portals like AOL, MSN, Indiatimes & recent entrant MiH to either tie-up with the major (which looks less likely) or to build partnership with the smaller players or may be to completely acquire some promising startup in the space, all of them will now have to pull their socks up!

The other interesting thing is that the landmark based driving directions will now become another phenomena not only in India but globally, we’ll soon have some benchmarks & interesting figures coming from Indian GIS industry in the consumer domain for the other countries to follow. Local search & travel search won’t mean anything without the integration with good driving directions.

More GIS startups, acquisitions & partnerships should soon be seen.

My personal Congratulations & good wishes to Yahoo Maps team!

Note: The views presented here are personal to the blogger & do not in anyway reflect that of the organization he works for.