Collaboration

Evidence: Why Internet directions can drive you crazy

Let me tell 'ya, this News.com story really revved up my motor, and I'm sure anyone who's ever used the Internet to find driving directions and estimated travel time will be equally ignited: "Driving under the influence of Web maps" (http://www.techrepublic.com/2100-3513_11-5890586.html).

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills decided to test out the accuracy and timing of the directions that she received from Yahoo, Google, MSN, and AOL's MapQuest. She chose a random location in San Francisco and plugged in the information. While this test was admittedly non-scientific, the result were indeed interesting.

  • Yahoo took her through the center of the city: "It took 20 minutes to get there and 28 minutes to get back, for a total of 48 minutes, instead of the 27 minutes estimated as total travel time on the Web site."
  •  MapQuest was the only one that took her on the highway (not advised during rush hour): "The trip took 16 minutes out and 25 minutes back, for a total of 41 minutes, compared with the Web site's estimated 29 minutes."
  • MSN: "[These directions] confused the heck out of me, and I've lived in San Francisco now for about a decade... [they] suggested I drive from Woodside Avenue onto Merced Avenue, two streets that don't connect. I discovered, much to my horror, that I would have had to drive over a street divider to follow those directions... [It] took 24 minutes out and 21 minutes back, for a total of 45 minutes, compared with the estimated 24 minutes total travel time. "
  • Google: "[The directions] took me on a short, circuitous route, with several right turns instead of just one... [It] took 16 minutes to get to [there] and 26 minutes to get back to the office, for a total of 42 minutes, compared with 24 minutes estimated."

All of the return directions guided her through the historical (read = lots of street trolleys and tourists) part of the city, even though a wider, less traveled street was a mere two blocks away.

Mills compared the Internet directions to human knowledge, hiring a taxi to take her to the same location. The $37 roundtrip, which avoided heavy traffic streets, took 23 minutes out and 24 minutes back, for a total of 47 minutes.

Personally, I use MapQuest when I need to find out how to get from here to there, but I rarely pay much attention to the estimated time of travel. Back in my college days, I used to deliver pizza, so I can usually make it anywhere in 30 minutes or less! ;-) 

About Sonja Thompson

Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox