My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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a practice broken, another silo solidified

I know i have some quirky habits but i really really really hate when web companies break them with their latest updates. One of my weird ones concerns getting directions to a place (which i do 2-3 times a day). For years now, i’ve thrown the address of the destination into google toolbar. Up would come the address (recognized by Google as an address) with three links: Google Maps, Yahoo Maps, Mapquest. I would always click Yahoo Maps. From there, i’d click on the “To Here” link and then choose “home” and click. I’d then copy/paste the directions into an email that i’d send to my Sidekick and then use that to navigate while in the car.

A while back, Yahoo Maps broke this path by going all web2.0-y. While it sure is pretty, it makes getting directions more difficult and you can’t copy/paste the directions. So i saved the “classic” style in the preference and didn’t sweat it any longer.

Today, Google broke the process completely. At first, when i searched for an address, it wasn’t found. Apparently, the Google search engine got a bit more picky and required me to know if it was Street or Road and required a comma between the city and the state and couldn’t cope with a 9-digit zipcode. This was never an issue before (and part of why i loved it – it let me be lazy). But even worse, they’ve gotten rid of the three choices and now only have their map with a box for me to put in the “start address” to get directions. This infuriates me because there’s a reason that i don’t use Google Maps. Their directions are *atrocious* AND you can’t copy/paste the directions once you have them. And it completely pisses me off that the “email” button tries to email me a link not the content of the page. (This is even worse on Yahoo where it has the nerve to send a text message with a link when you send to phone.)

I’m grouchy. I realize that this is a subtle thing but it really makes me quite unhappy. Plus, i’d always touted Google’s willingness to link to both Yahoo Maps and Mapquest as a sign that not every search company has to focus on being a silo. Google broke that today, signaling that it does indeed prefer to be a silo than to offer choice that the consumer might want. I know that i can work around this but it requires more clicks for a practice that i do so often it hurts (yes, i’m always lost). Le sigh.

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34 comments to a practice broken, another silo solidified

  • I use Windows Live search on my phone for my mapping (or sometimes Virtual Earth Mobile). How’s that for fancy? It’s a shame google hasn’t taken more time to make google maps easy to use on windows mobile; it’s possible but byzantine. MSFT has done a good job with their product, though.

  • Back before Google was famous, it used to have links at the bottom of its search result pages to the same search on other search engines. That changed a long time ago though.

  • Brian O' Hanlon

    you want grouchy, try having the only real fishing tackle shop in your city close and move out to the middle of nowhere. Imagine a whole city like dublin, ireland with money and commerce of all kinds taking off, and the one little store I used to hold dear is now replaced by a trendy alternative store called ‘beads and bling’, which sells trashy looking beads to make hip-wear necklaces and stuff.

    I now that fishing tackle was always destined to become a casualty to bigger stores, the open up on the ring roads etc. Because middle aged men with too much frigg’in money to slosh around, end up going online, or to these big ‘superstores’ and filling a trolley full of wading boots, salmon poles, artic weather protective gear and basically a whole truck load of stuff they will store in an attic until it gets dumped by their children when they die.

    Why I liked the small store in town, was it offered you advice – it was word of mouth knowledge which was passed down, whenever you transacted for a small item even. Some of the best words of wisdom in fishing I ever got, I got this way. You don’t get that from Ama-bot, or ebay-bot, or any other machine for that matter.

    Nick Carr sort of makes the same point, about search engines and machines. I don’t want my fishing knowledge to come from some ‘context aware’ algorithm. But as I said, that is the price we have to pay, because all the middle aged husbands with big breasts living out in the suburbs are too greedy, and want to fill trolley loads of stuff, and cheap prices off the internet. I predict in years to come people will realise what internet buying is all about, and the small store will make a return again.

    I watched Apocalypto movie today, and an elder in the movie tells the story of the man who asked for too much. In the end the earth just said, I have no more to give and the man was left in a mess. That old elder sitting by the camp fire talking to his tribe, in Mel Gibson’s movie could have been talking about google. In the end, the earth will say to the man, I have no more left to give. Yeah we have search, yeah we have price reductions, but in the end we also have this huge big hole inside ourselves which can never be satisfied.

  • I love Mapquest! Never tried Google maps. I don’t fix something unless it’s broken and not even then sometimes!!

  • Grouchy? Hardly.

    Your reaction is exactly what any interface/process designer should *expect* as feedback after screwing up a perfectly usable application and replacing it with one containing obvious flaws. How obvious? This obvious: one trial use of any web-based “directions” application would convince you that sending a link to a mobile phone is a non-starter. The last time I was in Manhattan I tried to use my Blackberry to get directions from LGA to the W/Lexington via Mapquest. I was *at* the hotel before Mapquest had finished loading the page that you type the address into (roughly 20 minutes).

    You’re not grouchy at all–you’re simply paying attention.

  • It is possible that Google found that no one clicks on the Mapquest and Yahoo links. Perhaps that is why they took it down.

  • It’s a very interesting theme and a simple answer of many questions

  • For Google (and Yahoo, and the rest of them), I think it is becoming a rather simple matter of who pays the bills, and how do those bills get paid. Getting “all web2.0-y” (ouch!) is the way of the world, it seems – at least for now – and that overrides the custom-hacked linkages that users like you had created to do useful things. Sending the link instead of the map to the phone thing? That’s all about getting you to use more expensive mobile services, dontcha know!

    Although “doing evil” is in the eye of the beholder, Google’s “don’t do evil” mantra does not preclude changing application interfaces in order to chase mind share, media share, market share, and money (not) share(d).

  • Bijan

    Hi Danah,
    Happy New Year! What work around are you doing now. Do you know if anyone from those companies have heard from you’re complain and has there been any contact or reply to you (or to this process?) Have others complained about this same issue?

  • Yoz

    Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

    Here’s one I tried yesterday – note that the location that actually matches what I typed is seventh on the result list. Imeanforgodssake.

  • Yeah, and this is the problem with technological upgrades… they offer more features and less usability…. or they go the “proprietary route” and do it all for the money.

    Its like they are just trying to be overly self important by breaking new things.. because updates and upgrades is what gives the developers purpose. And if they democratize the design, they loose thier authority, and thier “innovative” tag.

    For instance: the copier I’m using right now… I like it… but they discontinued the contract in favor of something with way more features, but its clicklytyclackity, features people DO use are eliminated, and we can print from our desktop… When we really don’t care, because it means our jobs will get intermingled and may cause a ruckus…

    ok, now I’m ranting. but I support you by taking another republicanish stance: Quit changing things!… They were Fine!

  • Jim

    glad to see there are some balanced voices on this issue. I work for a group, Stop It Now!, that has been advancing a ‘radical’ approach to child sexual abuse prevention for 15 years. We focus on root causes, adult responsibility for prevention and the real situations/contexts that put children at risk. Check out our programs, messags and resources at stopitnow.org.
    Thanks – and keep reminding people were the real dangers (and responsibilities) lay – with adults.

  • I’ve tried google map and it was great. I never map quest..

  • How funny it is that when some things changed from our usual routine, we sometimes get lost and get irritated with the changes. Without first noticing it that in the end, it is only for our own convenience. :)

  • And does anyone remember where Netzero originally got its name? Every time I see them on television talking about how low their rates are, I remember those commercials where a couple of rebels stood up in front of Congress and declared, “Free internet forever!” “Forever” was apparently about five years. It does seem, though, that money drives everything these days. And you are absolutely right: the internet companies are constantly upgrading, and this usually involves offering more services as a bribe to the customer (often services we don’t really need), while taking away a good bit of the user’s choice in the matter. And oddest of all, it’s all done under the guise of Web 2.0 which is supposed to be about bringing more interaction to the user. More interaction it may be, but that interaction is increasingly under someone else’s control. It’s a bit like saying, we’re adding more items to our restaurant menu, but you can no longer order your burger without onions.

  • portrait artists

    I�m really wondering why you�re putting much headache into yourself with these unsteady and inconsistent Internet tools for mapping. I prefer to use my mobile phone whenever I want to locate the nearest gas station or whenever I want to go to my best friend�s wedding reception. Do you think your mobile phone is a great substitute for all this annoying Internet sites?

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • Thanks for reminding people were the real dangers

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.!!

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • Leah is definitely the one who should win. Science Fiction Conventions? What?! She deserves a win, indeed!

  • I’m guessing the only way to do this in Javascript would be to use the onresize event, and then using the resizeTo method to attempt to keep the window at the size you want?

  • I think you make a compelling point TG. As long as the prez has experienced military men in him inner circle to provide strategic advice

  • Yesterday was my snapping point with GMaps. Every time I give it a pretty specific address in San Francisco, it’ll give me a whole bunch of markers all over the city.

  • I’ve tried google map and it was great. I never map quest..

  • It does seem, though, that money drives everything these days. And you are absolutely right: the internet companies are constantly upgrading, and this usually involves offering more services as a bribe to the customer (often services we don’t really need), while taking away a good bit of the user’s choice in the matter.

  • Its like they are just trying to be overly self important by breaking new things.. because updates and upgrades is what gives the developers purpose. And if they democratize the design, they loose thier authority, and thier “innovative” tag.

  • I’m guessing the only way to do this in Javascript would be to use the onresize event, and then using the resizeTo method to attempt to keep the window at the size you want?

  • I’m grouchy. I realize that this is a subtle thing but it really makes me quite unhappy. Plus, i’d always touted Google’s willingness to link to both Yahoo Maps and Mapquest as a sign that not every search company has to focus on being a silo.

  • It is possible that Google found that no one clicks on the Mapquest and Yahoo links. Perhaps that is why they took it down.

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