Mapbox SVP Marc Prioleau spoke at Street Fight Summit in Brooklyn in Tuesday, giving a bit of history of map technology and some clues to where it might go. During the early days of digital maps, Prioleau said, it was largely a one-way data flow with few options for the public to provide input about what they saw. This meant errors on maps called out by users did not see immediate updates.
In 2004, he said, the amount of time it typically took from when a problem with a map was discovered to changes being made was about 18 months. “That was also about the time it took for Christopher Columbus to get a map, try to sail to China, come across a land mass in between, explore around, and return to tell the mapmakers,” Prioleau said.
But the mapping business really changed, he said, particularly when Google Maps came along adding its data to maps and making maps more interactive. “When something is super responsive, people tend to play with it,” he said. Mapbox wants to further that evolution. Its mapping product has some 65,000 active developers working with it, Prioleau said, who have the potential to reach a quarter of a billion people. Mapbox’s software development kits can be used to add location searches, mapping, and navigation to apps, which he says opens the door to new ways of seeing maps.
“Location is data,” Prioleau said. “Don’t just put your data on the map. Your data is the map.” The idea is for businesses to take their data and shape the custom map they want around that.
The rise of the Waze app, he said, further exemplifies how the nature of maps has become more organic. User input on Waze has been the a key selling points for the app, as it draws upon updates from the community to enhance its maps.
As more ideas and information are loaded into maps, the context of the data used in the creation needs to be clear. For instance, ships at sea need to see shipping lanes and routes, not highways and roads. Mapbox is working on drilling down on data on maps, Prioleau said, where users can zoom through layers of details, even floorplans, which may be of interest to stores that want to display brand information. “We see a lot of interest in that kind of thing,” he said.
Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor. Photography by Shana Wittenwyler.