If Google Maps says a place has a certain name, it now has that name

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/02/if-google-maps-says-a-place-ha.html


Fishkorn is a much better name than Fiskhorn anyway. At least it produces some interesting imagery.


My old Thomas Bros. maps of the SF Bay Area identify highway 237 as “Silicon Valley Expressway” or “Silicon Valley Freeway” depending on which year I check, but Google Maps shows it as “Southbay Freeway.” Approximately nobody around here even thinks it has a name.

When I bought my house in 1999, the realtors were trying to convince everyone in our neighborhood to use the name “$CITY Hills” rather than just “$CITY”. (This tended to screw with websites that used postal address validation.) The old-time residents called our neighborhood “College Heights,” which Google Maps showed for a while. But now it seems Google Maps has decided that our “College Heights” neighborhood has been absorbed an adjacent neighborhood called “$CITY Highlands.” These neighborhoods have very different characters and are called out in the long-term city plans as distinct areas.


So Google gets to sell naming rights to our neighborhoods now. I can’t wait for the day we get to navigate “AT&T West End,” “Morgan Stanley Financial District,” “Highlands by Audi,” “Pepsi Streets at Washington Park,” and “East Bob Granby Nissan.”


May as well stop fighting it. If it’s on Google, it’s a fact.

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One of the best examples is Agloe, New York, a paper town added during the Great Depression as a copyright trap on paper maps by General Drafting, who produced maps for Esso service stations (among others).

About twenty years after the name started to appear, a businessman decided that the highway junction there would be a good location for a general store. He checked the map in the glove box of his car, found that the place had a name, and the Agloe General Store came into existence. Since he paid his property and franchise taxes, the business of course appeared in Delaware County’s tax rolls. These, in turn, informed Rand McNally, which updated its maps with the newly-created hamlet.

Esso and General Drafting detected the ‘infringement’, and filed suit. Rand McNally had a perfect defense - while the place had started out fictional, it, like Pinocchio, had become real. No longer would the puppet’s nose grow if it asserted the existence of Agloe!

The Agloe General Store has long since gone out of business. New York City purchased the land on which it stood at a sheriff’s auction and demolished the building. (New York holds many thousands of acres in the Catskills to keep them undeveloped and its water supply unpolluted.) Agloe is now just a memory of a place that started out being fictional, but became real, and is real no longer.

Until a thing has a name, it can hardly be thought of as a distinct thing. Name it, and it becomes real. Even if the name is a lie, the thing that it labels acquires an identity from the naming.


I will give Google Maps credit where credit is due, though:


With Trump as president, it’s just a matter of time before Subsidized Time is introduced.


I do enjoy reporting/correcting Google maps errors; putting the apostrophe back into Queen’s Park, New Westminster (it’s ONE queen, not many!), or removing the ‘public courthouse icon’ from the Balmoral Court-Tower apartment building. There are others I’ve submitted, but can’t recall. If something really bugs you, report it/submit feedback! It might just change again…


Typo’s they’ll change. I emailed them that they’d spelled it “Frairs Cliff” and I got an email back admitting that they had and fixing it. Took six months, but still.



In my little corner of the world we have a street name with the wrong number of 'n’s on google. Not huge, unless the street is named after family members (my Wife’s in this case) like half of the streets and neighborhoods. Trying to convince google, with pictures, maps etc all fall on deaf mics. (soulless machines don’t have ears as we know them.)

More and more people, I think, are coming to realization that data is not authoritative. Corporate data should be seen as no better (or worse) than public data, except it should be seen more though the lens of “who profits from distortions”.


Unless the real estate company that made it up forks out the money for a really big billboard.



I don’t get it. Please elucidate.


The first sentence sums it up:


So this is actually pretty frightening. Any developer who’s looking to buy up properties and gentrify a particular area could rename the neighborhood. Just another way for communities to be erased–literally off the map.


I submit corrections to Google Maps all the time. Now that I’m a 7th Level Local Guide, they usually publish my corrections almost immediately


And what real estate shill came up with “South Beach Bayside Village” just south of there?
Looking at the “History” page of the Wikipedia article “List of San Francisco Neighborhoods” I see that google maps is often cited in behind-the-scenes editor arguments. Example:

03:06, 8 February 2017‎ WW222sf (talk | contribs)‎ . . (59,142 bytes) (+212)‎ . . (Undid revision. Balboa Hollow is recognized by google maps, SF transit authority and its community members. Seee.g., https://www.google.com/maps/place/Balboa+Hollow,) (undo) (Tag: Newer user possibly adding unreferenced or improperly referenced material)

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It’s much harder to correct a street or place name once the post office and Census Bureau get it into their databases. I struggled for years to correct the name of a street I lived on – it was a N-S street that somehow got an “E” (east) prefix tacked on. Once a mistake gets into corporations’ mailing lists, it spreads like cancer. Big marketers check their address lists against gov’t sources, but if the sources are also wrong, who can tell? Eventually I took advantage of my work (census data) to make a well-placed request to the Bureau’s Geography Division, and now it’s fixed there and in Google & Bing. Still get junk mail with the wrong address, though.


So, is it Silver Lake Heights?

I used to live near Chicago, and all the major highways are identified by name, like “The Dan Ryan” or “The Eisenhower Expressway”, when they called out on the radio. When I was in high school and I occasionally drove into the city you never saw the names posted on the road signs, you just had to know what highway number was the Dan Ryan.

Some years latter after moving away I was back to visit family and they had started adding the common/official/political names to the street signs, but google still only knew the highway numbers. Last time I was back even Google’s turn by turn was using the common names. (Unfortunately I think everything but people used “Dwight D. Eisenhower Expressway” instead of “The Eisenhower” or “The Ike”)