Friday, December 05, 2008

Google Maps in Korea and navigating the sprawl

Last week, an interviewee told me that Google Maps had -just- recently launched in Korea.

I think it was September, when I was looking at Google maps trying to find Korean places to no avail. There was China, and Japan... and BLANK in the middle where Korea was supposed to be.
This will be interesting, given that navigation here, as others have pointed out (nice ref to U2 btw;), is done by landmarks like subway stations, shops, and services. This leaves people like me, who like to navigate by street names somewhat distraught.

I have adapted to this and since I ride the subway more often than not, find the maps on websites ok for finding places. Some interesting and sadly typical experiences one should keep in mind when navigating here:

1. If at all possible, try to find it yourself. Asking locals is hit and miss. My local friends have told me that even when they don't know a place, they will point someone in any direction just to 'help.' More than once though, I have been personally escorted by a local to the place I was looking for because it was easier than being told. This is not always a language barrier issue, and many locals do the exact same thing with their mobile phones: call when you get to (x) point, I will come and escort you down a little alley, into a basement, where the (y) is. Seriously. Implications for technology? Tonnes.

2. I have had taxi drivers in the local neighbourhood punch in exact addresses into their GPS and come up with nothing. Then I have had to leave the cab with a shrug.

3. Due to the social, historical, and economic clustering of Seoul, people are not inclined to leave their immediate neighbourhoods. Anyone who's lived here for a while knows about the groaning that takes place when one has to go "North" or "South" of the river, just say.

Sites like Naver is kind of like an Ask Jeeves (back in the day), sponsored crowd-sourcing type site. For a good comparison, see James Larson's blog>> and that is generally what Koreans like to use if not relying on local trusted knowledge.

Korea Times article on Google Maps debut >>

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