New Yahoo Maps

Someone let me know that Yahoo! was in the midst of a technology upgrade for their mapping application (, making it web2.0-ified just like they are doing with their mail. So I decided to try it out and see if it gives google and mapquest a run for their money. The results were grim, to put it nicely.

I’ll start out by saying that driving directions around Boston are just about impossible for a computer or navigation system to generate accurately. Many of them don’t have the logic to tell you how to maneuver traffic circles, or what degree of “right” turn you need to make at Davis Square where five streets converge, or that in order to “stay on” Foo Street, you may need to make several sharp right and/or left turns. That being said, I have found that Mapquest actually does the best job of differentiating the severity of turns, navigating through traffic circles, and even handling no-name streets and alleys. I used my favorite Boston directon benchmark to test the new Yahoo! maps. Get me from my apartment to Zero Church Street in Harvard Sq. Of course none of them can handle an address of “0,” and despite the sign outside the church, I’m pretty sure that technically the address is “1”, so that’s what I had to enter.

First of all, the new Yahoo! maps (getting sick of the exclamation point yet? Thank you, late-90’s dot-com-ism!) uses some sort of stupid flash application to display everything. Contrast this to the new Mapquest and Google maps, which have the same functionality without requiring a slow, crashy plugin that doesn’t even display right on my browser (firefox on OSX). And once I got past that (by resizing the browser window until the applet popped up), I couldn’t even copy and paste the directions, because they were in a flash app. I clicked on “printable version” and here are the directions it gave me:

  1. Start at 150 BROOKLINE AVE, BOSTON – go 0.1 mi
  2. Turn Right on PARK DR at PARK DR – go 0.4 mi
  3. Turn Left on MOUNTFORT ST[RT-2] – go 0.2 mi
  4. Turn Right to follow RT-2 – go 0.1 mi
  5. Turn Left on US-20 WEST – go 0.1 mi
  6. Turn Right on BOSTON UNIVERSITY BRG[RT-2] – go 0.2 mi
  7. Turn Left on – go 0.3 mi
  8. Continue on MEMORIAL DR[US-3] – go 1.3 mi
  9. Turn Right on JF KENNEDY ST – go 0.3 mi
  10. Make a Sharp Left Turn on BRATTLE ST[RT-2A] – go 0.1 mi
  11. Turn Right on CHURCH ST – go 0.1 mi
  12. Arrive at 1 CHURCH ST, CAMBRIDGE, on the Left

Start out going which way on Brookline Ave.? I’m lost already! And note step number 7 there. Turn left on what? Those of us who know this trip know that it’s not even a left. Once you go over the BU bridge, you’re merging into a traffic circle (towards the right, if anything) and then making the first exit (on the right, again, since we’re in the United States) onto Memorial Drive. Both Mapquest and Google get the traffic circle right. Mapquest says: “Enter next roundabout and take 2nd exit onto MEMORIAL DR / US-3 / MA-2.” Back to the first point, neither Mapquest nor Google can tell me which way to turn onto Brookline Ave. to start my journey, however they do at least indicate that I need to go “Southwest.”

The problems only get worse once we enter Harvard Square. I appreciate that Yahoo! denotes that it is indeed a “Sharp Left” onto Brattle St. as the map below will attest to. Google simply says “Bear Left” which is anything but the truth, and even Mapquest calls it a “Slight Left,” which is also horribly incorrect. The biggest test is right up ahead though. See where the line that represents your path takes an intermediate right turn? This is still Brattle street, but you need to make this distinct right turn. Going straight ahead will land you going back the way you started:

Yahoo! maps completely skips past it as if you will magically end up at the corner of Brattle and Church just by “go 0.1 mi.” Same problem with google. But here is where Mapquest shines: it is the only one to actually note that you need to turn Right onto Brattle St. after already making a Left (albeit incorrectly denoted as a slight left) onto the street.

All in all, if you’re read this far, thank you for suffering through this rant. Newer definitely does not always mean better, and not even Google can be the best at anything. The winner in this field continues to be Mapquest. As for the new Yahoo! maps? I hope they make some improvements before taking it out of “beta.”

  1. #1 by Scott on October 7, 2006 - 10:39 am

    Nice assessment. There is one feature of the Yahoo! (ugh) Maps beta that truly impressed me though: the live traffic information. It accurately marks construction and other delays (such as a Diabetes walk and the circus) on the map with three selectable levels of detail. Pretty cool.

  2. #2 by Hueby on October 7, 2006 - 12:09 pm

    Mapquest does give VERY detailed info, although sometimes too detailed. For instance, I know that when I take a certain exit I will go onto a ramp. I do not need mapquest to tell me the length of the ramp and to specify this for me. Maps are far more important to me than the actual written directions. For this reason I find Google much better. I love their maps, they are very clear and I appreciate their easy zoom-in option. However, not everyone is as visually oriented, so I could see how Mapquest is the king of internet navigation systems.

  3. #3 by 1/2 Two Grim Dudes on October 7, 2006 - 1:56 pm

    It’s not a traffic circle or a roundabout, it’s a rotary.
    Fahkin’ ‘ell, jawn

  4. #4 by Mean Rachel on October 24, 2006 - 4:38 pm

    I have a little story that involves Yahoo! Maps and Boston driving.
    So for my job I coordinate pet relocations. One of my clients was moving from BOS to SFO and had 2 cats.
    They were staying at the Boston Cat Hospital (665 Beacon Street, Boston) and that was where we would need to arrange to pick them up for their flight out of BOS. But first, I needed to book their flight. I toodled over to Yahoo! maps and input the cat hospital address and then the BOS airport address. Try it! Right now!
    Those of you from Boston are probably snickering if you actually input the addresses.
    On Yahoo! maps it says that the Boston Cat Hospital is 14 minutes away from BOS.
    Great! thought the ignorant Texan. I arranged a flight early in the morning so our agent could pick them up right when the hospital opened and then zip over to the airport in time for their check in.
    I then wrote in an email to my customer this plan (with a note saying “Thanks for picking a place so close to the airport!”) and she wrote this back (I quote):
    “I’m a bit confused, Boston Cat Hospital is not just down the street from the airport, it is in Kenmore Square, whereas the airport is in East Boston. I just got directions at Mapquest, and they are 6 miles apart. And due to the trouble with the Big Dig, it isn’t that easy getting to the airport these days. 6 miles in urban Boston is quite a distance during the morning rush hour.”
    Six miles is a big deal? So I wrote back apologizing for my assumption and got this email back from her (1/2, are you reading this?):
    I am entirely sympathetic to the fact that the grim realities of Boston’s roads are incomprehensible to folks lucky enough to not live here. You may not know that Boston’s roads were originally cow paths, we just paved them over when the time came. Yahoo maps is, in this instance, wildly off base.
    And so you have it.
    Another day in pet shipping.

  5. #5 by 1/2 Two Grim Dudes on October 25, 2006 - 12:35 am

    Ha. Grim realities. And she doesn’t even know me.
    Have her cat hop on the T.

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