In any case, there is a Michael Jones who presented at the 2007 Where2.0 conference (not the 2008 conference; the one that just finished a few days ago). He is listed as the CTO (Chief Technology Officer) of Google Earth. He might now be the Chief Technology Evangelist for Google. He co-founded Keyhole Corporation before Google bought them and renamed their product Google Earth. He’s done time in serious positions at a couple of other companies, including Silicon Graphics—the premiere high end (visual) computing platform of several years ago (they’re now on the downslope). In short, this guy can make stuff happen; we need to put our idea in front of him. Your mission, should you choose to accept it…
Around twelve minutes into his presentation, Jones says:
“At Google, we don’t know when to tell users what they need. We respond to users with whatever they want.”
That’s good news, because we know what we want. And we’ve done good work so far in building this combined expression of support. Very good work.
In my last position, I worked as a technical support engineer. I dealt firsthand with what people were doing with our products out in the field, and I came to get a decent understanding of how feature requests were prioritized within our company. I decided that it was probably similar to the way a lot of companies did things. Every time I ran into a situation where a customer requested or asked about some particular feature, I logged it in our feature-tracking system. Easy enough. That would act as a natural “vote counter,” so to speak. It wouldn’t be the whole story, but it was an important part.
An emerging company often has very definite ideas of what types of products it hopes to build—and that is often a good strategy—but when they finally get real customers making real demands, the company building the software has the opportunity to listen to those customers and builds what they want. It can be a very democratic form of product building, depending on how good a company’s feedback loop is.
As customers of Google Maps, we want to continue to build momentum for this feature request until it reaches a fever pitch. We’ve been making good progress in making sure that a lot of people know about our request. We can be almost certain that some folks on the Google Maps/Transit/Earth teams know about our petition because we’ve had actual Google employees sign the petition (at least they claim so, and I’ve no reason to doubt them).
As a support engineer, when I witnessed the “critical mass” of a feature request, everyone in the company had heard about it from more than one customer or source. Myself and the other support folks would know of a few customers who wanted some feature. Sales folks would hear about it over the phone or from site visits. The CEO and biz dev folks would hear about it during partnership and strategy sessions. And then, one day, you’d be in the break room, grabbing a Diet Snapple, and there’d be a support person, and a sales person, and a couple of developers, and field engineer, and we’d shoot the breeze about whatever, and then…boom. Somehow the feature request would come up and we’d all decide informally that yes, this feature request was going to happen. Now all that remained was to formalize it, and figure out when it would be implemented and released. (OK, that’s not exactly how it went down, but it’s close enough. )
That’s the kind of effect we’re looking for. Even if a person is only familiar with the concept, that’s one less person that won’t have to have the value proposition explained to them, so when they’re in that circle—in the break room or in the board room—and the feature request comes up, they may not say, “Yes! That’s the best feature request ever!”, but they also won’t say, “What the heck is that?”
Michael Jones also says in that presentation that Google realizes that not everyone has cars. That’s another plus.
Google Earth is not technically Google Maps—what we’re primarily concerned with—but they’re very closely related. A certain Michael Jones (I’m not sure if this is our Michael Jones, because there is also a Michael T. Jones listed, though it’s probably the same person) will be presenting at yet another upcoming developer conference that starts tomorrow: Google I/O. (“I/O” typically means “Input/Output,” as in you put information into a program [input] and get information out of that program [output].) But in this case, Google says the I/O stands for “Innovation in the Open.” Innovation and open standards continue to be a very contentious issues on the internet; companies want to be on the correct side of things, but they also want to make sure they don’t give away the farm.
Google I/O is Google’s big, annual developer conference. And this year they’re doing a lot of geo-related workshops. There will be 15 geo-related sessions, and I’ve listed them below. For full info, check out the Google I/O site.
What to say to Mr. Jones, or any of the other folks in attendance, you might chat up? You can figure it out for yourself, I know, but if I was there, as a developer with a pet concern, I’d have my 10-second and 30-second pitches ready — they might go something like this:
“Hi Michael, I’m Peter Smith. Good presentation (hopefully!). Have y’all talked about doing bicycle navigation, like bicycle routing and directions, in addition to the default car routing?”
The bicycle navigation might not sink in at first, so it’s easiest to just give a synonym immediately after. Routing is the “mappy” technical term I’ve seen used when discussing directions. If he needs more info:
We want bike directions. Bike routes. There is an online petition right now with 33,000 signatures and growing. It started about three months ago at GoogleMapsBikeThere.org. Google Maps’ default directions option is “Drive There.” Some major cities have “Take Mass Transit”—that’s awesome. And now we want a “Bike There” option so the growing numbers of us on bikes can figure out how to get from Point A to Point B safely. And as soon as that is done we want a ‘Walk There’ option. Nokia is releasing a pedestrian routing option for their upcoming Web 2.0 releases. People are going crazy for this stuff. 40% of all trips are less than two miles from home. Two miles is biking and walking distance. Most car pollution occurs within the first few minutes of operation. People want to get healthy and save the environment—we just need to meet them half way. Lots of people are working on mashups to provide this, but that’s not prominent enough. We want to mainstream bicycling, and we want Google’s help.
It’d be cool if we could just drop a stack of cheap business cards on one of the tables at the event.
Here is the list of geo-related sessions: