Thursday, August 9, 2018

Google Maps’ Influence on Neighbourhood Names

Jack Nicas:

For decades, the district south of downtown and alongside San Francisco Bay here was known as either Rincon Hill, South Beach or South of Market. This spring, it was suddenly rebranded on Google Maps to a name few had heard: the East Cut.

The peculiar moniker immediately spread digitally, from hotel sites to dating apps to Uber, which all use Google’s map data. The name soon spilled over into the physical world, too. Real-estate listings beckoned prospective tenants to the East Cut. And news organizations referred to the vicinity by that term.


Yet how Google arrives at its names in maps is often mysterious. The company declined to detail how some place names came about, though some appear to have resulted from mistakes by researchers, rebrandings by real estate agents — or just outright fiction.

Via Nick Heer:

Even the area I grew up in, West Hillhurst, is called Upper Hillhurst in Google Maps, which is just north of Westmount, another neighbourhood that doesn’t exist.

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I've seen several cases of map or travel sites mysteriously resurrecting old names as well, I suppose because they appear on old maps. Some sites will tell me I live in a neighborhood called Roswell. I've lived here more than 25 years and never heard that anywhere except on map sites. I also see travel sites that still refer to the Colorado Springs airport as "Peterson Field", a name which hasn't been used in decades. Maybe it fits though, because until recently Apple Maps showed a pond in a park near my house, despite the fact that the pond hasn't existed since Kennedy was president.

Perhaps this is just Google's way of marking its "digital territory". Cartographers have long been known to add tiny falsehoods to maps in case anyone copied them. Any word that Google invents and adds to a map, regardless of how it might be later used in the physical world, is, and will always be, Google's intellectual property. Those realtors had better be careful. Google lawyers might show up one day and want their commission.

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