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.

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27 responses to “What Google did, makes me sad

  1. Great post. A mix of inspiration and emotion.

    It is sad to see google glorifying your ideas as theirs. In my opinion this might be good for routeguru. This might open up some new avenues for partnerships. You should approach Microsoft , yahoo…..and tell them how you can do it better than google.

    – vb

  2. Piyush,

    One of my colleagues one said that “Google will take over the world, so better be a fan”. Google has literally diversified and expanded from a simple search bar. Though it does come as a surprise that one of the most innovative companies in the world has put their label on an invention from a start up, but, I am sure this is not the first time and this won’t be the last time a big corporation like Google has packaged the idea from innovators like you and sold to the common man as their own.

    I do understand and appreciate your thoughts and feeling regarding Google taking credit for innovating “landmark driving directions”. I think you are moving into a right direction by voicing through your blog, you need much more.

    – Are you protected through an IP? Look like you have enough evidence that Google stole your idea; you can consider a legal action against them.
    – You are dot on the money with regard to struggle of companies in emerging markets such as China. Big corporations have lost a lot of business by not making right connection in these markets.
    – I strongly believe putting up your strong points against Google will be helpful. Be cautious to share any thing that may provide them more tools.

    Let somebody with deep pockets do the marketing for you for your concept of landmark driving directions. I think it will change basic perception from “whatever” regarding your innovative idea to “this really make sense and will work”.

    The fact is companies like Google swell with success and forget their “roots” that they started with two three minds put together to create a change in this world. On contrary, I think in the corporate world, there is almost no room for emotions, its survival of the fittest and it is still true that “One who has the gold leads the March.”

    Good luck
    PG

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  5. In a way, this was waiting to happen. The problem with ideas is that they have a right time and need all the ingredients – money, talent and market – to come together for them to be valuable enough for people to use.

    While I am saddened to see that routeguru has been sidelined in this case, it is difficult to fault Google entirely for having put the resources around landmark based wayfinding. The real problem I have with Intellectual Property Protection is this – if I have an idea that I cannot take to market in the way it can provide value to target users, whatever be my constraints, should I be allowed to simply sit on it and prevent those with the wherewithal from actualising it. If this be the tenable, any student could simply articulate his idea in detail, present it at a conference and then claim that since he was the first to make it public – doesn’t matter if it has all the details – nobody else could use it. To my mind this is impractical.

    This is not to say that the big boys are ethical or anything of the sort. It is a battlefield out there. To take on a Google is not the wisest of approaches, unless of course, as Pankaj has pointed out, you have some form of documented IP protection available and can prove that Google’s solution is exactly this.

    All this notwithstanding, you guys have my fullest sympathy and I wish you luck as always.

  6. Hey Piyush,

    I myself have used RouteGuru on various occasions in last 5 months & undoubtedly it’s wonderful for both Web & Mobile.

    It’s really sad to see the way Google has claimed it, but same time, things should move from your side as well. I mean you’ve to come with marketing aspects of your product, it’s not Google who will do it for you.

    At least you can extensively use Social Media for the Branding & Promotions part. Also you can see the legal aspects of it if you have IP for the same.

    You can also run campaign like ZOHO did it against MS… 🙂

    Keep us posted on your next move….

    Regards
    Navrang
    http://navrangblog.blogspot.com

  7. This will certainly reach Google and they will certainly realize, if not talk to you, on this. Route Guru has a lot of visibility and it is quite certain that your innovations cannot be claimed by anyone.. even Google!

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  9. “chase a dream of “changing the way directions are consumed in India and globally” – Isn’t it a hollow claim ?. Directions were always given in india by landmarks and it’s not your firm which has invented it. So trying to take credit for it doesn’t sound too good.

    In what way did google steal your idea?. It’s an idea even kids in devoloping countries know of. and google need not even see your site to realise that the lanamark system is the one that works in this part of the world.

    Sory, to sound diffrent. But I don’t see your point standing.

  10. Definitely a great post… it allows me to discover Route Guru from France.

    Just allow me to say that it is not the first time I have the opportunity to admire genuine innovations from India (the first of the kind was Babajob (http://www.babajob.com/)).

    Congratulations and best wishes.

  11. I think google did not do any wrong here. An idea is just that. People cannot claim an idea. Coconut milk is an idea! You can claim the process of making coco milk but not the idea itself i.e. milk can be made by coconut. Sorry, if this sounds arrogant and rude but I do not think google did anything wrong here.
    Also I don’t think you should be angered by Google launching this thing. If anything, you should be thankful. In my view they have opened up a lot of revenue streams for you. Go to travel companies and sell them your product, go to local search players like burrp, asklaila, mapmyindia and whatnot!

  12. Same story with Colayer too

    Google launched Wave platform in 2009, which has the same idea as Colayer platform. Colayer developed with this innovative idea of Web-based Collaboration platform 10 years ago.
    http://colayer.com/page_googlewave

  13. wow that really sucks!! Google should eat crow and apologize.

  14. Uh, correct me if I’m wrong, neither you nor google invented “landmark based” driving directions. It’s simply something that exists. The fact that they discovered this fact doesn’t make them evil.

  15. @Sree – We’re talking about the technology invention not the concept/idea and RouteGuru pioneered this technology can really be proven.

    Also there’s a process in which the landmark intelligence is generated which is legible for a patent and has been filed for one.

    2. Why Globally? In many countries, landmark intelligence can fundamentally change the way solutions extend directions today i.e. “Street name based directions”, which is a very traditional style.

    3. I’ll encourage you to read the post again. All we felt sad about was that Google did talk to us, learnt whole lot about Landmark intelligent directions from us and eventually it comes up with a lofty story on how did they figure out the problem, terming it as their fresh thought process without patronizing RouteGuru at all.

    We wouldn’t have raised our voice if at all RouteGuru could get a single mention anywhere.

  16. @SMJ – Yes you’re right. Neither RouteGuru nor Google invented “Landmark based directions” concept.

    The discussion here only pertains to the fact about who pioneered the technology earlier and how Google has hidden the fact of learning a whole lot from RouteGuru from there official story.

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  18. @SMJ – Further to the same, the innovation is not in the landmark based driving directions..but rather lies in the manner in which the potential landmarks are identified from a geographic information dataset and represented to users for effective communication.

  19. Google has splintered its own motto, Its high time entrepreneur community cease to rejoice google’s highs for they might just be an awful duplicate of lesser known projects. Google’s no demur from mighty companies despised

  20. I have been following routeguru since 2007 when it was featured at pluggd.in. However, it has been over 2 years now and the only city covered is the Delhi-NCR.

    I guess Google’s crowd sourcing method scales quicker and I believe that is their edge.

  21. Dear Abhilash, It is heartening to learn that you have been following RouteGuru for such a long time.

    Google’s crowd sourcing method is not an efficient method to scale and I’m detailing it in the next Blog post. You’ll learn practical issues on why RouteGuru couldn’t scale.

    Having said that even if we do not scale, it still hurts to see Google not giving the due credit to RouteGuru for an innovation that they have been talking so actively about.

  22. It is sad to see google using RouteGuru’s idea as one of their engineer’s observation. Being involved in development I know that this was originated by Avinash / routeguru.

    I wish it might bring new opportunities for routeguru as this is now recognized by company like Google. Its high time to approach VCs…

    I know Google might do better than RouteGuru, but in any case they should give due credit to RouteGuru’s innovation / idea…

  23. Piyush,

    Why aint you guys talking to Google directly on this ? If that attempt has been made and ignored by Google, call a press conf. or have a Press Release. Being a entrepreneur i know what it feels in times like this for any start up. regds.

  24. The first rule of starting any new business is .. What is the cost of entry to market? Google’s Cost of entry to this concept/market was negligible, It was merely a feature enhancement. They had their own maps, they had the best of resources, so they had to win. Routeguru may have ignored one of the basic principles, and there was no roadblock for any competitors of routeguru. This may be a learning for any budding entrepreneurs.

  25. Hey guys.. routeguru seems to be a fantastic concept.. What happened to it now??? I dont find your website, or anything about you guys.. Would be happy to hear something from your end after 3 years..

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