Google Street View vs. captcha

Google Online Security Blog shares the news on the innovation in image recognition technology used in Google Street View:

Translating a street address to an exact location on a map is harder than it seems. To take on this challenge and make Google Maps even more useful, we’ve been working on a new system to help locate addresses even more accurately, using some of the technology from the Street View and reCAPTCHA teams.

This technology finds and reads street numbers in Street View, and correlates those numbers with existing addresses to pinpoint their exact location on Google Maps. We’ve described these findings in a scientific paper at the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR). In this paper, we show that this system is able to accurately detect and read difficult numbers in Street View with 90% accuracy.

Here are some examples of correctly identified street numbers – quite impressive!

street numbers

What’s even more interesting that pushing this technology for good uses also empowers the evil side of things:

Turns out that this new algorithm can also be used to read CAPTCHA puzzles—we found that it can decipher the hardest distorted text puzzles from reCAPTCHA with over 99% accuracy.


The ends of the road

The ends of the road

Here is a nice idea with a good execution:

A village at the end of the road, near Sund, Norway

I spent some time recently in Google Maps, finding the edges of their Street View image coverage. I’ve always been drawn to the end of the road, to the edges of where one might be allowed to travel, whether blocked by geographic features, international borders, or simply the lack of any further road.

Via kottke.

Google Map Maker – wisdom of a crowd

Official Google Blog shares yet another milestone in the life of Google Map Maker. Google Map Maker is the tool that allows anyone in the world add and correct information on Google Maps. Google might know more about famous places, but there are millions and millions of neighborhoods in the world with local businesses and other tiny little features that only the locals know. Google Map Maker makes sharing and accessing this knowledge possible and easy.

Yes, it is yet another one of those “wisdom of a crowd” things. But no matter how skeptical you are about the approach, it is hard to argue with the success Google had in utilizing the masses. Have a look at this before and after comparison of Tbilisi, Georgia map and you’ll be amazed as to how much “after” has improved.

As with anything that humans do, there might be mistakes and inaccuracies there. But given the will and the right tools, these are getting fixed and corrected. Have you tried it? If no, please do. You’ll be amazed as to how easy and intuitive it is. And as they say in the video, try adding your local coffee shop. Share the knowledge.


Time dimension to Google Maps

One thing that Google Maps could benefit from is a time dimension.  Imagine, being able to scroll the time-line while looking at the satellite picture of the same place.  You could see how cities are growing, roads built, and rain forests destroyed.  You could see traffic jams.  You could see how building shadows drop to find the better parking in a hot place like Cyprus…

I guess Google will have to collect much more data than they already have though.

Marking Google Maps

I have to admit that I am not a power user of Google Maps.  Sure, I visit the site often to search for a parking space or a better route around Limassol downtown.  But I never actually explored the power of the application and all of its useful features.

Today I accidentally realized that I could actually place marks on the maps and share them with other people. This is more than valuable while providing someone with driving instructions or just to make sure several people talk about the same place.

In case you don’t know how to do this, here is a quick guide for you.

  1. Visit Google Maps while being logged in with your Google account. If you already have an account with Gmail or any other Google service, you can use that one with Google Maps.
  2. Click on the “My Maps” tab under the search bar on the left of the map image.
  3. Click on the “Create new map” link.
  4. Navigate the map image and zoom to find the location of your choice. Drag and drop the marker (icon with blue something right next to the icon with the hand at the top of the map image) on the location, or draw a shape around it (another icon up there).
  5. Fill in the title and description of the map on the left.
  6. Mark the map “Public” in the privacy settings on the left, under the description.
  7. Click on the “Done” button to save the map.
  8. Click on the “Link to this page” on the right side, above the map image. You’ll get the URL that you can copy and paste into email, instant messenger, or blog.

If you did everything right, you’ll have something like this – my map with a few Limassol locations.

Three things to like about WikiMapia

Here are three things that I like about WikiMapia :

  1.  It’s brings together the excellence of Google Maps and the social power of Wiki.  The results are better than anywhere else.  Even Cyprus, which usually gets little attention on the web, is covered pretty good.
  2. It’s easy to add landmarks and notes.  That’s something I really missed so far on Google Maps, where I can just see maps and search for geographical locations.  With WikiMapia, I can find something, mark it down with the notes, and then send the link to somebody else.  I won’t need to provide the instructions like “find two major roads crossing at the bottom of this map and then follow the one that goes up until second turn on the right. You’ll see a sort of triangular white building.  That’s our office” any more.  Just a link.
  3. WikiMapia pages score pretty good in  Google search results (I hope it doesn’t sound like invitation to spammers).  To find map to our offices now all I need to do is search for brief company name – “mmvirtual“.  The map link is the second result after our own web site.