Indoor Mapping

I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with map data. Not the maps themselves — not how they look, or anything else about them — but the data, the bits that make up the way we find our way in the world.

This wasn’t always the case. In the past, I didn’t care much about the data — I just wanted pretty pictures so I could show things. But as I’ve changed from being a map maker to working on the search side of ovi Nokia HERE Maps, I’ve moved away from caring how the map looks, to caring what is underneath.

Every time I walk into a place, my brain immediately tries to think about how I’d map it. Is the Central Cafe in the middle of Union Station a single entity, or is the upstairs eating area a second floor — even though the structure is standalone? What is the right way to represent the curving staircases up to the second level of shops in the main station?

Every time I walk into a complex place like this, I just want to spend a week mapping out every detail. Where are the stores? What is in them? Can we attach a frontage photo of each? How would you represent the Godiva chocolate — do you mark the path through it as a public hallway, since it’s used that way, or as part of the store?

I want every complex building in the world to have a fully annotated set of data about it, not so I can look at it, but so that I can be routed along it.

It’s not that the technology and approach to do this don’t exist: the data behind things like Bing’s Venue Maps (, sold through Nokia as Destination Maps, are typically completely covered for routing. Public spaces are demarcated. Entrances are noted. Every piece of info that you could want is there. But these maps exist for so few places, and they’re so poorly integrated with the rest of the mapping experience.

I’m tired of wandering around for 20 minutes looking for the luggage lockers. Of not knowing where the restrooms are. Of being trapped in the maze that is the International Spy Museum, looking for the way out. (By the way: International Spy Museum — awesome place, definitely worth the price of admission. Great mix of gadgets and pop culture, artifacts and pop culture, plus a huge exhibit on James Bond.) I love these places, but I hate not knowing where I am!

“More than 4230 venues”, says Bing. Well, great, but it appears that you have less than 10 places in Washington DC. No Union Station, no Air and Space Museum, no American History Museum. No National Archives, no White House.

These are the easy places. Every one of these places has a map — most of them produced by the Smithsonian, and if they’re not public domain, they probably would be perfectly happy to help publish the data more. There are 18 Smithsonian Museums in DC alone, and pretty much every one of them has an interior map they hand you when you walk in the door.

I know that this isn’t something that will happen top down, not realistically. This is a case for something like OpenStreetMap, for a crowd-sourced approach. Because I’m tired of “4230 venue maps!” I want them for every strip mall, for every department store, for every place where I’ve ever had to follow a sign to restrooms, asked for directions, and gotten lost anyway.

Until we have that — and until I’m carrying it in my pocket — I’m never going to be able to stop thinking “Damn, I wish that I could sit in here for a week and make a damn map.”

6 Responses to “Indoor Mapping”

  1. Daniel O'Connor Says:

    I know it would be a hard sell at your work, but for goodness sake, let’s all just contribute to a map data commons!

    I’m back in the property industry at the moment, and slowly mapping *every single house* in Australia. My workplace has valuers, who visit and measure, with laser distance measurement tools, a house every day. There are many who are in the same market, competing with us, doing the same measurement process.

    This seems silly. The majority of our worth is to determine what a property is valued at – so why can’t we spend 5 minutes less measuring, and more time assessing, based on shared, open map data of particular spaces?

    OpenCV offers a way to also reduce the cost of map maintenance – recognising shapes from aerials can surely be automated, much as google has already done.

    Why can’t we link the building industries, architects, and all of the property industry with the transport, delivery and anyone who routes from A to B for commerical reasons in a common data fabric?

  2. crschmidt Says:

    The majority of *your* worth might be determining what a property is valued at, but surely you understand that that isn’t true for everybody. 🙂 I mean, the simple answer to your rhetorical question is “Where’s the money in that?” Sharing infrastructure-style data just means that the people who have historically controlled that data — be it companies like NAVTEQ/Nokia or the County Assessor’s office — can’t get their piece of the pie by sharing in that cost.

    There is a lot of money changing hands under the status quo. Changing the status quo won’t really make more money appear, not tangibly.

    It’s harder to get rid of a cost like that, because you’re moving the cost from being a smaller per-use cost to an overall infrastructure investment. It’s not a lot different from the open source argument — yes, a successful open source project may benefit everyone involved, but in the end, *someone* has to step up and do the initial investment — and without a promise of a reward (if the project fails, etc.). I don’t think we’re likely to see a change in this status quo any time soon.

  3. Ankit Agarwal Says:

    Check out Micello – we’re building one of the worlds largest collection of indoor venue maps. We’re also a provider of indoor maps to some of the largest mapping platforms, as well as offer APIs to developers to add indoor venue maps to their apps!

    I know 15,000 is ‘just another number’ but just like the outdoors, it does take some time. Before we know it though, in the next year or two all the interesting places in the world will be mapped out, from the inside!

    Ping me at ankit dot agarwal at if you’d like to chat offline.

  4. crschmidt Says:

    Micello appears to have existed since 2009, and been publicly releasing apps since 2011 — so even if we take a generous viewpoint and say that 15,000 maps are being added per year, I don’t really understand how you think ‘all the interesting places’ can be mapped in ‘the next year or two’.

    In my town of 100,000 people, there are probably at least 5 places that make plausible indoor maps for my usage. (In areas like DC, that number skyrockets — per-capita-indoor-area counts are huge relative to population, but.) Even if we say that in Cambridge, there’s only two — say, the Galleria and the Harvard Museum of Natural History — that would mean that there is one map per 50,000 people. In total, that would mean more than 100,000 maps worldwide — and so far, in 4, or 2, or 1 year of operation, Micello has gotten 15,000.

    (Granted, last week apparently your website listed 6000 maps, based on, so I’d accept that there has been a lot of growth recently — but none of the growth affects any of the things I mentioned caring about in my post, other than the Postal Museum, which wasn’t even interesting enough for me to go to.)

    In reality, I think the number is closer to one map per 10,000 people — MIT, Harvard, Harvard Museum of Natural History, the Galleria, Mt. Auburn Hospital, both Shaws/Star Markets, Whole Foods. (That’s 8, in a city of 100,000 people.) That would put the number of maps at 500,000 for the world. Your coverage report still says “Meet the Mapper” — maybe you have many, it’s impossible to tell from your website, but it seems like at the very least it’s internal, not crowdsourced. (Which is supported by the the 14:1 bias towards North America.) Even with better software, you might get 10 times better at doing this — which still leaves you a decade away from covering the things I would consider important.

    I don’t think this problem can be solved with a small team of people. (I’m not *sure* it can be solved with a large team of people/crowdsourcing either, but I don’t think it’s being tried.) I think it requires involvement of a community.

    Frankly, OpenStreetMap has a much better chance of solving this problem than Micello *or* Nokia. The question is just when they’ll get there — it’s only a matter of time.

  5. Fitzalan Says:

    To follow up with what Daniel O’Connor said, at GeoTel we bring together all the telecom data and put it onto a map. Our maps show fiber lit buildings, carrier data, cell towers, etc. We are a leading provider of telecommunications infrastructure data in a GIS format and have maps of over 5,000 U.S. cities.

    While we are just one industry, it would definitely be interesting to see several different industries overlaid on a common data fabric.

  6. peter gray Says:

    there is a new indoor mapping software with a built in AI engine so that the user can tell the software were they are on the map and where they want to go and the software will find the most efficient route for the user.
    the user downloads the building app and once it is installed the software dose not need a cell or WiFi signal to work
    you can check out the website