Archive for April, 2013

Indoor Mapping

Posted in default on April 21st, 2013 at 15:42:44

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.”