Google City Tours: never let Google plan your vacations!

Day 1 in NYC, we hope you had good shoes
Day 1 in NYC, we hope you had good shoes
This week Google introduced a new feature in its “Google Labs”, Google City Tours. As the name implies the goal of this web service is to offer a walking tour in a city.

How it works
You choose a starting point and Google provides you with a daily schedule of landmarks to visit for a three days trip. The landmarks are shown on Google Map and the schedule includes time to spend at each landmark and walking time from one to another. The idea sounds good on the paper but the execution isn’t. How bad? Really bad actually. We tried a few tours offered on the first page as example and then a few others in cities we know well and in both cases the results were pretty much a disaster.

Let’s try New York City: for the first day Google was willing to walk us up and down Manhattan, to visit not less than 5 museums as well as Grand Central station, Central Park and Saint Patrick Cathedral and an additional 5 hours walk between these monuments. From Google we would have expected at least the basics of a multi-stops tour: organize the visit between these landmarks so as to minimize the distance to be walked!

But the interesting thing here is not that Google did a pretty bad job, it is that it shows the limit between a computerized system and human-organized content – not to mention a proper local knowledge. Google’s motto might be “to organize the world’s information”; but let’s face it, their algorithms have limits in grasping the real world: not only as it is, but also as human beings would like to discover it.

Thursday, July 9th 2009

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