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Stewart Berry
Stewart Berry
Mapping is in my blood. I am a third generation professional “mapper” and I am extremely fortunate that from high school onward I have been able to specialize in geography, geospatial systems, and geo-data. https://www.linkedin.com/in/MappingSoftware.

Google Underwater Mail Delivery in New York’s Financial District?

 
October 5th, 2015 by Stewart Berry

For the full article with comments please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/google-underwater-mail-delivery-new-yorks-financial-district-berry

Maps are everywhere. Want to know the location of the nearest cat groomer? Done. Want to avoid that overturned beer truck? Easy –when you account for traffic. And how much do these miraculous services cost? Zero. That’s right, zero. Location is so critical to companies such as Google that mapping tools are provided for free. Maps enable geo-targeted advertising and the identification of place specific services, generating value for customers and revenue for the big mapping players.

However, there are actually very few high-quality and comprehensive providers of geographic data. Google develops its own maps, and I have sometimes guiltily enjoyed seeing the terror in the eyes of vehicle fleet managers when I mention to them that Google maps can be publicly edited. Apple was lambasted for their initial efforts at mapping, but they have come a long way since those early and embarrassing days (anyone remember the dangerously incorrect address for Washington, DC’s Dulles Airport?) The other major players are TomTom and HERE. On the heels of the recent purchase of NOKIA’s HERE division by a consortium of German car makers, TomTom, a Dutch company, is releasing products to support automated driving. HERE has established itself as the dominant geographic data provider, producing the geo-data used by Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and our Maptitude mapping software product suite.

Even in this age of magical maps, I still come across doozies such as this one found on Dictionary.com:

(Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/offspring)

Even if I gave them the benefit of the doubt and imagined that the word “offspring” did originate in the Galapagos Islands, the date range for Middle and Old English that appears below the map predates the islands’ discovery. OK, in all fairness, I discovered that this map is the result of a weird combination of issues that you can try out for yourself. The pushpin locations identifying England are actually entirely separate from the background world map. If, like me, you use the zoom tools in a web browser such as Chrome (i.e. To zoom in, press Ctrl+(+); To zoom out, press Ctrl+(-)), then the pushpins detach from the map and start wandering all over the place.

I do understand that maps are incidental to the service of correctly spelling words, but if you are going to provide a map on your website, the days are long gone when you can get away with a simple green boundary showing the wrong location. It is just way too easy to put together a basic and attractive global map using Leaflet and a product such as Maptitude, or to utilize OpenStreetMap for the maps and for finding a basic geo-location such as England.

Even Google isn’t immune to inaccuracies, and not just the high profile ones such as map edits showing the Android logo peeing on an Apple logo in Google Maps. Barry Schwartz of Searchengineland.com alerted us to the fact that Google added ZIP Code matches and lookups to the knowledge graph section of Google search results. If you search for “boston, ma zip codes” in Google, you will be presented with all of the ZIP Codes in the city. If you click on a ZIP Code, Google outlines the postal area in a map on the right side of the web page.

Intrigued by an interesting new mapping feature, I decided to quickly explore a few ZIP Codes. I immediately found some odd results that highlight imperfections in Google’s data. For example, the global headquarters of our mapping company (Caliper Corporation) is located at 1172 Beacon Street, Newton, MA, 02461. But when you search for that address, Google Maps corrects the location to be in the neighboring Waban ZIP Code 02468. Searching for the 02468 ZIP Code shows the evil city of Waban making a sneaky land grab into our defenseless Newton Highlands (cue Braveheart and a passionate defense of our land.)

Also, in New York there appears to be underwater mail delivery in the Financial District (see below). ZIP Code 10005 is in two separate pieces, with the second and largest piece of the ZIP Code covering water in Upper New York Bay. When compared with the same ZIP Code in the Maptitude mapping software, the difference is striking, as ZIP Code 10005 is landlocked, rather than being mostly in the water as shown in the Google data.

What could have caused such an egregious error by Google, you ask? Well, the answer is not as straight forward as you would imagine and touches on important characteristics of ZIP Code areas that most people, including marketers, overlook or don’t understand. Such misunderstandings can impact comparisons of marketing data or sales territory definitions for franchises, as shown below.

A ZIP Code is a five digit numeric code that identifies a collection of mailing addresses within the United States and its territories to simplify the distribution of mail by the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Every ZIP Code can be shown as a point on a map. The point is located at the address of the post office for the ZIP Code, if there is one, or at a central location inside the ZIP Code area if the ZIP Code can be shown as an area.

Why the “if”? Only some ZIP Codes can be shown as areas. OK, stick with me here: Many ZIP Codes do have delivery areas, and some ZIP Codes are for buildings or campuses that have defined borders. However, ZIP Codes are usually lists of addresses for delivering the mail. They are not, by definition, areas but they are the street-based routes the mail carrier travels to deliver the mail. Boundaries can be created based on the location of addresses, but this is an approximation because carrier routes may overlap and portions of the country don’t even have deliverable addresses. To compound the difficulties in creating these areas, the ZIP Codes may not adhere to the boundaries of cities, towns, counties, or states.

While we at Maptitude strive to create the best possible approximations of ZIP Codes, these definitions vary by the organization creating them, as highlighted by the Google data for New York. However, the Google boundary for the NY Financial District is particularly odd.

Using ZIP Codes from different sources, even of the same vintage, can therefore have real world impacts, such as confusion over sales territories. There is even a US Census bureau version called “ZIP Code Tabulation Areas” (ZCTAs) that are generalized representations of USPS ZIP Code service areas, created in an effort to better supply Census data.

Map accuracy is expected to be flawless. We should all be aware that expecting complex geo-data to be error free remains unrealistic, even today when maps are everywhere and everyone is a map user. However, we should identify the best data for the application and ensure that the quality of the data meets the needs of the analysis.

The Maptitude team is passionate about providing information that is as accurate as possible, whether it is our own ZIP Codes or externally sourced data. Check us out here: www.MappingApps.com

Like what you read? Share, like, and comment. Follow me for more pieces on mapping, political and school redistricting, and geographical information systems and data. All opinions are my own.

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2 Responses to “Google Underwater Mail Delivery in New York’s Financial District?”

  1. divya says:

    Thanks for sharing this information, it helped me a lot in finding valuable resources for my career

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