This morning’s buzz on the web seems to be centered around a9′s new Yellow Pages feature, which tries to show photos of the businesses alongside their results. How did they get all these photos? Basically, they had trucks with side-facing cameras and GPS units driving down the major commercial thoroughfares in a bunch of cities, and the system tries to roughly match up the geocoded address with the photos taken near that location. (As Russ Beattie points out, this has been done in Spain before, but not with this level of grace in the U.S.) If you know anything about GPS, you’ll realize that this process isn’t very exact, and indeed most of the photos of Cambridge businesses were about a block off their intended targets.
In A9′s case, once I corrected the entry shown above, it immediately started using that photo as the definitive one. It didn’t, however, update the thumbnail in the search results listing (I assume that’s cached). It also didn’t give me a way to assert that the photos were of the wrong side of the street for the business I was looking for. Finally, it didn’t make any attempt to re-interpolate the locations of the nearby businesses based on my assertion. Still, the mechanism is a great Wikipedia-style way of having the legions of web users who are undoubtedly kicking the tires of this service today improve the results as they go along.
Oh, and by the way, A9′s not the only one who’s been driving around with photo trucks. Peep this screenshot from a collaborative GIS demo that I helped put together for a northeastern state which just happened to have yearly drivethrough data for all of its state roads. Track me down at ETCon if you want to see it in action.