Why Crowdsourcing in Google Maps Helps Everyone

Choosing to take the high road

Key Takeaways

  • A new Google Maps update will allow anyone to add a road to the map easier by drawing it directly in the app. 
  • The feature will further benefit residents in more rural areas where roads are less documented. 
  • Experts say the benefits of the updates outweigh the cons and that Google will assess each submission seriously.
Close up of two people using a maps app on a smartphone in the car.
sukanya sitthikongsak / Getty Images

Google Maps soon will allow any user to add a new road to the map by simply drawing the road, and experts say it’s a great tool—if used properly. 

If you’ve ever found yourself on an unmarked road on Maps and wondered why it doesn’t show up, this update is for you. While it may seem a bit sketchy to allow virtually anyone to draw a road, the collaborative feature will improve Maps, overall. 

"Collaborative systems with millions of users and any of them able to share feedback on the accuracy of the information make for a self-improving service with the best possible real-time data," wrote Herve Andrieu, creator of GoogleMaps.Guru, to Lifewire in an email. 

Adding to Maps 

Although the ability to add roads on Maps has been available, Google Maps is changing the tool to make it much easier to use. The new tool allows anyone to draw a road directly into the desktop Road Tool to detail how long it is, the nature of its curve, and which way the road goes. 

"Add missing roads by drawing lines, quickly rename roads, change road directionality, and realign or delete incorrect roads," wrote Kevin Reece, the director of product at Google Maps, in a blog post about the updates.

With the level of importance Google has placed on maps since 2005, it seems unlikely that the company would allow published maps to become compromised.

"You can even let us know if a road is closed with details like dates, reasons, and directions."

Of course, Google plans to examine every update suggestion, but many experts see this type of open-source model as a good thing, especially in more rural roads and areas. 

"Google Maps can only do so much, and so it might be helpful for local residents to be able to label some streets that maybe Google missed in their mapping," wrote Thomas Jepsen, the founder of Passion Plans, to Lifewire in an email. 

The update will make roads that were missed by satellites (such as dirt or gravel roads) visible on Maps, but it also could open doors for some contributors to add inaccurate details. 

A Road to Nowhere? 

In theory, letting anyone make changes to the most popular map app doesn’t sound like a good idea, but experts say there are only minimal risks to this open-source method. 

"Pranksters will certainly attempt to submit made-up additions, and bad actors could also attempt to add fake roads for more malevolent purposes," wrote Weston Happ, product development manager at Merchant Maverick, to Lifewire in an email. 

"But with the level of importance Google has placed on maps since 2005, it seems unlikely that the company would allow published maps to become compromised."

An older model pickup truck on a dirt road.
David Engelhardt / Getty Images

However, there is no need to worry that this new feature will take you on a road to nowhere. Andrieu said that Google will have to ramp up its vetting process to determine which submissions are the most valid for updating its base maps. 

He said there already is an extensive vetting process—partially automated and partially human—that compares satellite imagery with the suggestion. 

"They also have to wait for the feedback from multiple users before adding a road," Andrieu added. "So it's not a case of one random person just adding a road on the map, but the feedback of multiple local users [adding that same road]."

Google is no stranger to letting users update anything from a business’s hours to current traffic conditions to adding a missing location, so the company already is well-versed in handling data. Overall, experts say the new feature will provide more convenience to drivers. 

"As a more detailed and/or accurate methodology for collecting user input for map accuracy, and with enough vetting power, when it comes to published map updates, I’d only expect the 'add road' capability to make Maps a better and more powerful travel tool," Happ said.

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