Somehow, I found myself looking at Bing Maps this evening. No one uses Bing Maps on purpose. I don’t think even Microsoft uses Bing Maps. I got there by accident, probably like most people.
What I found was fascinating, at least for my home town, Vancouver. Your results may vary. I live in a suburb of Vancouver, so naturally, I wanted to know what Bing Maps thought my area looked like. I instantly saw the map displayed stores and restaurants that had been permanently closed for years, some almost ten years in the past. Map data like that was shockingly out of date. Though oddly, the maps was able to display businesses that were relatively new (for Bing Maps), that had opened in the last three years or so.
Some of the map data was just outright wrong, not just out of date. Bing Maps lists a Walmart just two blocks from where I live. There is no Walmart there, nor had there been ever. It also says there’s steakhouse nearby but I can’t remember a steakhouse being in that location in the ten or so years I’ve lived in this neighbourhood. Those are just two examples of many incorrect items I’ve seen using these maps.
Looking at the map for my area, it’s presenting me with this very odd alternate reality version of my neighbourhood. As if it’s a combination of businesses that never closed in that reality, plus somewhat newer businesses, and businesses that are in the wrong place. I’m having difficulty trying to imagine what all that would look like.
The fun doesn’t end there though. I used Bing Maps to look at downtown Vancouver. The downtown area is where Microsoft was able to get the most “street view” data. Guess when they captured the image data for their version of that? It’s from around October of 2009. That’s right, their street view data is more than a decade old. Not only is it wildly out of date, the resolution of the images are quite bad by today’s standards. Think about what kind of camera your phone had back in 2009. That’s how old Microsoft’s image data is.
Now as bad as these old images are, it actually captured Vancouver in a very interesting time in its history. Back then, the city was about four months away from hosting the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. It was super cool seeing many of the official and non-official venues in various stages of readiness for the Olympics. It was great seeing that massive Canadian flag on the corner of what was back then, the under construction Hotel Georgia. If you swing by Canada Place, you can see the fenced off area for Jack Poole Plaza, where the cauldron would be set up. If you head just east of there, you’ll see the convention centre being prepped for being the international broadcast centre for the during the of the Olympics. In general, I was able to see lots of construction happening in the downtown core as the city got ready for a historic two weeks in February.
So yeah, Bing Maps is bad but it unintentionally gave me a sense of nostalgia for that time. No one in the city was expecting the Olympics to be as fun and exciting as it was. It was almost an innocent time.
Lastly, if you’re wondering how good the competition is, it’s not even close. Google Maps, even for my hick suburb, has street view data that is barely a year old. A new Brazilian food joint just opened up downstairs three weeks ago. Google Maps already has it listed on the map and you’re able to see photos from inside where customers are wearing masks.