Every year when it gets colder outside,
I find myself waiting at the window wide-eyed.
I see wind and some rain, and I sometimes see ice,
But there’s one particular weather pattern that’s so seasonally nice.
It can be fluffy or sticky, and it’s often bright white,
And it’s usually the cause of a most festive fight.
When the temperature drops and the clouds look just so,
I pull out my ski jacket and get ready for—yes!—snow!
Now if you look outside and see no snowflakes in sight,
I have a travel solution that requires no flights:
You can journey to snowy lands all over the globe,
Use Google Maps Street View—you can even wear your bathrobe.
Visit this street in Norway, and imagine you hear,
The pitter-patter of strolling reindeer.
Then some miles south in Nuuksio, Finland,
You’ll see perfect snow that the Northern Lights skim.
Staying in Europe but moving farther east,
On a winter wonderland, your eyes will feast!
When you’re ready, we’ll head west to France,
And watch skiers fly down the snow in their dance.
Now if you thought things already looked cold,
Just wait until you check out the actual South Pole.
Things are much warmer for these monkeys in Japan,
They’ve got themselves a hot tub, all they need is a tan.
Thanks for joining me here, and listening to my poem,
Or perhaps, given the subject, you could call it a snow-em.
Our Maps 101 series goes behind the scenes to share how we help you navigate, explore and get things done every single day. Over the past 15 years, we’ve provided maps in more than 220 countries and territories and now surface helpful information for more than 200 million places. These efforts bring helpful local information to your fingertips in Google Maps and produce better Google Search results, helping you connect with nearby places and businesses.
In fact, Search results that show local places and businesses now drive more than 4 billion connections between customers and businesses every month. This includes more than 2 billion monthly website clicks and other connections, such as phone calls, directions, food ordering and reservations.
Today, we’ll share more about the innovations and investments that help build an accurate and up-to-date understanding of places for the billions of people looking for local information on Search and Maps.
Maximizing Street View with breakthroughs in AI
Street View imagery lets you virtually explore the world, and helps us accurately reflect local information about places in Maps and Search. We’ve travelled more than 10 million miles across 87 countries to capture this imagery and bring new information online—from unmapped roads to new businesses.
Applying artificial intelligence to our more than 170 billion Street View images helps us create high-quality maps faster than we could before. For instance, applying machine learning models to Street View imagery has improved the accuracy of one-third of the addresses in Google Maps and Search, resulting in more reliable maps as people look for a local business or navigate to a destination.
Text recognition in the natural environment is challenging—especially at scale. The average Street View photo has visual distractions like distortions, cluttered backgrounds with extraneous text and awkward viewpoints. After years of teaching machine learning models, our text recognition systems can tune out these distractions and detect business names and addresses even when they’re handwritten on the side of a building or abbreviated. These models can understand a variety of languages across various scripts too, from Latin, Cyrillic and Thai to Chinese, Japanese and Korean.
In the last few years alone, processing imagery with AI has been one of the important ways we’ve been able to add more than 10 billion edits to our library of places, providing people with updated phone numbers, business hours and locations as they use Maps and Search.
Building data partnerships with authoritative sources worldwide
Thanks to partnerships covering more than 10,000 local governments, municipal agencies and organizations around the world, we’re able to reflect the latest information in Search and Maps results and help local authorities reach even more people in their communities with important updates. This includes everything from bike lanes and road closures to the addresses of hospitals and food banks. Our teams vet each authoritative data source to make sure it’s accurate before it appears on Search and Maps.
Working with authorities around the world also helps us quickly gather and surface critical information. This year, these partnerships made it possible to make important updates relevant to COVID-19. When you search for “COVID test” on Search and Maps we now show you more than 17,000 COVID-19 testing centers across 20 countries and all 50 U.S. states. You can also see important details like if appointments are required, who can get tested and if there’s drive-through testing.
These details are crucial and accuracy is key, which is why we lean on authoritative sources to help us surface this information in Maps and Search.
A global community contributes to make Search and Maps better
To ensure our products reflect the real world as fast as it changes, we enable people everywhere to contribute their local knowledge. Every day, people make millions of contributions to Google Maps, like reviews, photos, address updates and more. And we’re seeing more people contributing than ever before. In the past 3 years, the number of reviews, ratings and photos people have added to Google Maps more than doubled.
With local details from people in Maps and Search, it’s easier to make more informed decisions. You can quickly find reviews when looking for a mechanic, see photos others have added for a park you’d like to explore, and find your convenience store’s new hours.
This year, as cities and countries instituted restrictions throughout the pandemic, many places temporarily closed or changed their operations. While businesses can indicate if they are open with their Google My Business listing, we’ve also made it easy for anyone to mark a business as open or temporarily closed on Search and Maps by simply suggesting an edit. Over the course of the pandemic, people have submitted millions of temporary closure and reopen reports, helping eliminate the uncertainty about which businesses are open and when.
Giving business owners free tools to connect with customers online
One of the most important ways we help local businesses succeed is by connecting them with customers online. Business owners can claim their free Business Profile and connect directly with customers across Search and Maps via phone calls, messages and reservations. They can also share accurate information about their business, including opening hours, services offered and contact information. And each month Google connects people with more than 120 million businesses that don’t have websites, helping small business owners who aren’t online attract more customers.
Over the last five years, we’ve made more than a thousand improvements to Business Profiles, making it easier for merchants to connect with customers and share updates online. We recently made this even easier by adding new ways for merchants to view and update their Business Profile directly from Search and Maps.
With the pandemic causing daily disruptions worldwide, Google has helped businesses keep customers updated about everything from new services to adjusted store capacity and hours. Since the start of COVID-19, businesses made nearly 700 million edits to their Business Profiles, about double the number of changes made during the same time last year.
Gathering local information in totally new ways
To help people find what they need in a world that changes by the minute, we’ve developed new ways to find and surface information.
For example, people tend to avoid crowded stores and long lines—and this has been especially true during the pandemic. Popular times and live busyness information help people see how busy a place tends to be at a specific time or at that very moment. Gone are the days of guessing the best time to go grocery shopping! We’re expanding live busyness information to millions of places globally and to include essential places like gas stations, grocery stores, laundromats and pharmacies.
Google’s conversational technology, Duplex, has helped us scale our ability to confirm updated information for places. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve put Duplex to work making calls to businesses in eight countries—from New Zealand to the United States—to confirm things like opening hours or whether they offer takeout and delivery. This has helped us make millions of updates to business information that have been seen more than 20 billion times in Maps and Search.
Building the most helpful map of an infinitely detailed world
Beyond the technologies we’ve developed, our global operations teams play a role in nearly every aspect of mapmaking. They gather data, train machine learning models that help us index information from imagery, fix problems and evaluate authoritative data sources. They also build and maintain the automated systems that protect people from fake contributed content and even help small business owners set up Google My Business accounts.
All this to say, our work to organize the world’s information and make it accessible and useful is never done. Given the pace of change, there’s never been a more important time for us to be helpful.
When people find out that I work on Street View, the first thing they ask is, “How can I drive the Street View car?” Sadly, we don’t loan out those iconic vehicles, but what if any car could become a Street View car? Better yet, what if anyone could contribute to Street View, using only their phone?
With our updated Street View app on Android, it’s now easier than ever to collect your own Street View imagery and put it in the right place on Google Maps. Using our new connected photos tool in the app, you can record a series of connected images as you move down a street or path.
These images are captured using ARCore, the same augmented reality technology we use to produce experiences like Live View. After you record your images and publish them via the Street View app, we automatically rotate, position and create a series of connected photos. We then place those connected images in the right place on Google Maps, so your new Street View can be found in the exact location where it was taken for others to see and explore.
Before this feature, you would typically need special 360-degree cameras to capture and publish Street View imagery. Some equipment you could even attach to the roof of your car, but at the cost of thousands of dollars; that’s out of the realm for many.
Now that anyone can create their own connected Street View photos, we can bring better maps to more people around the world, capturing places that aren’t on Google Maps or that have seen rapid change. All you need is a smartphone—no fancy equipment required.
Reflecting more places and communities on Google Maps
While our own Street View trekkers and cars have collected more than 170 billion images from 10 million miles around the planet, there are still many unmapped parts of the world. That’s why for years we’ve been building new ways for people to contribute their own imagery to Google Maps. In fact, we’ve seen millions of Street View images contributed from people in every country on Earth, from Bermuda and Tonga to Zanzibar andZimbabwe.
Where people contribute connected photos, they will appear in the Street View layer on Google Maps as dotted blue lines—simply drag Pegman around to find them. Where we have existing Google Street View imagery, we’ll show that as the primary Street View experience with a solid blue line. While it’s still early days for this beta feature, there are already examples of people adding their own connected photos—from Nigeria to Japan and Brazil.
As with our other imagery, these pictures will help make Google Maps more accurate and up-to-date for everyone. For example, we can use the information in Street View imagery to update Google Maps with details like the names and addresses of businesses that aren’t currently on the map and maybe even their publicly posted open hours. We’ll also give these connected photos the same privacy controls, including face and license-plate blurring treatment that you see in the regular Street View photos that Google captures. We also make it easy for people to report imagery and other types of contributed content for review.
Anyone can contribute to Google Maps and Street View
Driving through a town where Street View cars have never been? Your phone is now all you need to tell Google Maps what’s there—and let people around the world explore it through your lens.
The connected photos beta feature is now available for people using the Street View app with an ARCore-compatible Android device in Toronto, Canada, New York, NY and Austin, TX, along with Nigeria, Indonesia and Costa Rica—with more regions on the way soon.
The world is dynamic, and it can be hard to keep up with changes in your city and neighborhood. Is my favorite restaurant doing outdoor dining? What are people saying about the new bubble tea place? Has that hiking trail reopened?
If there’s anyone that can keep you in-the-know, it’s the Google Maps community. Every day, people submit more than 20 million contributions—including recommendations for their favorite spots, updates to business services, fresh reviews and ratings, photos, answers to other people’s questions, updated addresses and more.
Now, we’re making it easier to find updates and recommendations from trusted local sources with a new community feed in the Explore tab of Google Maps. The feed shows you the latest reviews, photos and posts added to Google Maps by local experts and people you follow as well as food and drink merchants, and articles from publishers like The Infatuation.
Find the things you want to do
Every day, you can come to your feed to see what’s happening in your area. Wondering if your favorite Mexican restaurant has added a new dish to the menu? If you follow them on Maps, you’ll get their updates in your feed. Looking for a new nearby hike or a popular day trip near your city? Browse the feed for top recommendations of things to do from Google Maps users in that area. By panning and zooming the map, you can find helpful information for almost any location in the world, thanks to contributions from in-the-know locals.
The community feed brings together helpful local information and tailors it to your selected interests. For example, if you’ve marked an interest in healthy food or Greek cuisine in your Google Maps food and drink preferences, you’ll see more recommendations, photos and business posts for that type of dining.
A helpful voice for local businesses
The community feed also helps connect businesses with customers. Over the past year, we’ve seen businesses use their Business Profile on Google to let the world know about their current offerings and operations, like takeout and delivery options, new online services and the safety precautions they’re taking. In early testing of the community feed we saw that posts from merchants are seen two times more than before the feed existed. So now more people can see if a local business is offering a new service, has a limited time specialty or opened outdoor seating.
What makes Google Maps such a great tool to navigate and explore is the community of people, from our passionate Local Guides to nearby business owners. Those community recommendations are front and center with the community feed, now rolling out globally for everyone on Android and iOS. Get ready to rediscover your neighborhood, city and world with Google Maps.
Every Thanksgiving, before I settle into the couch to watch football or load my plate with multiple servings of stuffing, there’s another tradition I have to accomplish first: a turkey trot.
If you don’t already know, a turkey trot is a Thanksgiving Day run. It’s usually a casual way to log a few miles before sitting down for the big meal. There are lots of community-led, organized Turkey Trots, but plenty of people do them casually as well. I’ve done them with running clubs, alongside family and friends and even participated in an official race or two.
Even though I’m practicing social distancing this year, the turkey trot isn’t canceled. Instead, thanks to some help from Google Maps, it will be a semi-solo operation, with the option for friends and family—or really, anyone in the area—to virtually run “along” the route with me. Below, you can follow a few easy steps to create your own turkey trot as well. (These directions are for using Google Maps on desktop.)
Step 1. First, open Google Maps and select the hamburger menu at left (the three lines in a row). When that opens, choose “Terrain.” Then, the map at right will show you the topography of your location, which is helpful if you want to avoid (or add) some hills to your run.
I also found it helpful to select the “Bicycling” option in this panel. This highlights the bike lanes and trails in your area, and I’ve found it particularly useful to find paths that cut through parks that are great for cyclists and pedestrians. Another great way to get an idea of what your run will look like is to jump into Street View so you can get a more accurate idea of what you’ll be running through.
Step 2. I’m going to start and end my race at a park, but you can start from wherever you want. I decided an eight-mile run sounds right, so I chose a half point of four miles on the map. This is a bit of trial and error (“Oops, that was only three miles away, and this point is about five”) until you find the best spot. And of course, this doesn’t have to be exact if you’re not trying to be too official.
When you’re doing this, make sure you choose the “walking” icon, and also know that you can select the direction line on Google Maps to make the path a little longer or shorter. For example, I saw a bike trail that went through a park and dragged the dotted line through it. Just play around with this until you find the halfway mark that works for you.
Step 3. On the left-hand side, choose “add destination,” and re-enter your original starting point. Follow the instructions from step three again to drag and adjust your path as desired to get to the mileage you want. You can also take advantage of some of Maps’ new features if you want to make sure you get your fill of fall foliage. Or if you want to run by the homes of friends and family for a quick hello as you go, use Maps’ list feature to mark them, or any other landmarks that you want to include in the route.
Step 4. After you’ve completed creating your route, you can choose “Send directions to your phone” so you’ll have the map while you’re running. And if you select “Details,” you’ll see a share icon in the upper right-hand corner of this panel. There, you’ll get a link that you can share with family and friends. This way, they can try and recreate a similar path in their own neighborhood.
Step 5. When I’m running a specific path like this, I like to turn on the detailed voice guide feature, which gives you more frequent alerts for navigation. It was built to help people who are visually impaired, but it’s also great for runners who don’t want to constantly glance at their phone for directions. In your Google Maps settings, select “Navigation,” and you’ll see an option at the bottom of the list under “Walking options” for “Detailed voice guidance.”
Step 6. Now this is optional, but if you really want the full turkey trot experience, you can all choose a time to start your race and “run” together. There are a handful of apps that let you track and time your run. You can be as competitive (or non-competitive) as you want, with prizes for winners, or most-spirited. Get creative and add a scavenger hunt element to it: Runners get points for photos of Thanksgiving decorations, or local landmarks. Make it yours, and more importantly, make it fun.
This year, we’ve made it easier to find information that helps you stay safe, up-to-date, and connected. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve added nearly 250 new features and improvements to Google Maps to help you adapt to this new normal—from live busyness information for millions of places, to the ability to easily see critical health and safety information at a glance. And we’re continuing to invest in ways to keep information in Maps fresh, with over 50 million updates made to the map each day. Even as the holidays approach, we don’t plan on slowing down. If you need to be out and about this holiday season, here are four ways that Google Maps can help you get around safely and get things done.
Whether you’re heading out of town or staying local, keeping a pulse on the latest COVID trends can help you stay safe. Since we launched the COVID layer, it’s helped nearly 10 million people get critical information about COVID-19 right from Google Maps.
We’re rolling out two new improvements in the coming weeks. The updated COVID layer on Android and iOS will soon show more information, including all-time detected cases in an area, along with quick links to COVID resources from local authorities. This is especially handy if you’re heading out of town and need to get up to speed about the local guidelines, testing sites and restrictions in another city.
Avoiding holiday crowds might have always been your thing, but this year, we’re making it especially easy for everyone. If you need to take transit, Google Maps can help you more easily social distance with live crowdedness information. On Android and iOS globally, you’ll start seeing how crowded your bus, train, or subway line is right now based on real-time feedback from Google Maps users around the world (wherever data is available).
The right information, at just the right time
You may be in the mood to cook an elaborate holiday meal—or you may not. If you fall into the latter category, we’re rolling out the ability to see the live status of takeout and delivery orders in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia, Brazil and India when you book or order from Google Maps on Android and iOS. Now, you can know when to pick up your food, or when you can expect it to arrive at your doorstep. You can also see expected wait times and delivery fees, and easily reorder your favorites right from the Google Maps app. And when it’s safe to head to restaurants, you’ll soon be able to quickly see the status of your reservation in 70 countries around the world.
Get more done
Even without a global pandemic, the holidays are busy and you may need to spend some time on the road. Last year, we shared an early look at Google Assistant driving mode in Maps, and today, we’re starting to roll out an early preview of the improved experience to Android users in English in the U.S.—with more features coming soon.
Thanks to the new driving-friendly Assistant interface, you can easily get more done while keeping your focus on the road. Use voice to send and receive calls and texts, quickly review new messages across your messaging apps in one place, and get a read-out of your texts so you don’t need to look down at your phone—Assistant will even alert you to an incoming call so you can answer or decline with voice. You can also play media from hundreds of providers around the globe, including YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Podcasts and many more. Driving mode makes all of this possible without ever leaving the navigation screen, so you can minimize distractions on the road. To get started with driving mode, begin navigating to a destination with Google Maps and tap on the pop up to get started. Or, head to Assistant settings on your Android phone or say “Hey Google, open Assistant settings.” Then select “Getting around,” choose “Driving mode” and turn it on.
While the ways we make life easier for you have changed, our commitment to do this has been there all along. Over the past 15 years, Google Maps has used technology to bring helpful information about the real world right to your fingertips. To make sure that information is as accurate and up-to-date as possible, we rely on 170 billion high-definition Street View images from 87 countries, contributions from hundreds of millions of businesses and people using Google Maps, and authoritative data from more than 10,000 local governments, transit agencies and organizations. We also invest in technical approaches that power some of our most beloved and essential features—from the 20 million places globally that now show popular times data to AR-powered Live View.
Even in a pandemic, more than 1 billion people still turn to Google Maps to navigate their new normal—and our work is far from done. We’re continually working to build new features and services to help all of us emerge from this challenging time stronger than ever. So whatever your plans are this holiday season and no matter how much they’ve changed, Google Maps can make them easier and safer for you.
This holiday, family gatherings will be smaller or take place virtually to make sure everyone stays safe and healthy. Indoor activities will move outdoors. And that international holiday vacation will potentially transform into an epic road trip to nearby attractions as you stop to sightsee at local hidden gems along the way. But even still, people are prepping to make classic holiday dishes, looking for ways to experience winter and finding new, safe ways to be together.
We’ve analyzed Google Maps data before and during the pandemic (for the purposes of this post, we analyzed data from March to October 2020) to see how people across the U.S. are getting ready for the holidays. Read on for top trends on how people are navigating, how they’re spending their time and what type of food they’re craving.
Dashing through the snow, in a 🚗 or 🚴♀️ or 🚇
Across the country, Americans are opting for solo ways to get around safely. Unsurprisingly, driving continues to be the most popular mode of transportation, while interest in riding transit appears to be down by more than 50 percent. Cycling has emerged as a transit alternative–interest in cycling has increased 30 percent nationwide compared to pre-pandemic days, which is even higher than typical seasonal changes. Across all modes of transportation, we’re seeing people get directions to fewer new places, likely in an effort to social distance by sticking to tried and true spots versus exploring new places.
At the local level, transportation patterns are shifting:
While New Yorkers typically embrace public transit and Angelenos defer to driving–both cities have seen interest in driving increase by over 10 percent since the start of COVID.
Cycling is up across the board, both in the East and the West. Cities with the biggest shift in cycling increases include Denver (+200 percent), Minneapolis (+150 percent), New York (+72 percent), Seattle (+65 percent) and Portland, OR. (+57 percent).
Social distancing in a winter wonderland ❄️
Popular times and live busyness information in Google Maps have always been essential holiday tools, helping you avoid unwanted crowds. These tools help you know in advance when places are going to be busy so you can save precious time and also social distance.
So if you find yourself in need of a caffeine fix to tackle your holiday errands, make sure to avoid picking up coffee on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. when coffee shops across America tend to be most packed. And if you’re planning to shop for a holiday meal, stay away from the grocery store on Saturday afternoons between 1-3 p.m. when you’re likely to encounter long lines.
Chestnuts (or turkey or stuffing) roasting on an open fire 🦃
In the spring, Americans were optimistic about cooking at home–searches for “easy recipes” were at an all-time high. But as we approach the holiday season (and dishwashing fatigue sets in), people seem to want to order in. Interest in “takeout” on Maps has gained popularity by 306 percent compared to the beginning of the pandemic, and restaurant reservations booked directly on Maps have spiked more than 200 percent–likely because more restaurants are requiring them as they work to maintain safe capacity levels.
As for what people are eating, Mexican, Chinese, and BBQ are the most-searched cuisines across the country, and we’re seeing local noodle wars and more:
Seattlites and Denverites are pho lovers! Both cities have searched for “pho” twice as much as they’ve searched for “ramen.”
In Philadelphia, interest in “cheesesteak” has decreased by nearly 40 percent compared to early this year—suggesting that locals are expanding their food horizons or that tourists were the ones searching for this Philly classic.
Portlanders and New Yorkers are craving Thai. In both cities, interest in Thai food is up more than 100 percent compared to earlier in the year.
Spend time outdoors and deck the halls 🎄
From coast to coast, people are using Google Maps to have fun safely outdoors, searching for parks, waterfalls, beaches and gardens within driving distance. As the weather cools, searches for outdoor locations continue to remain higher than pre-pandemic. Even traditionally outdoorsy cities like Seattle (+56 percent), Los Angeles (+31 percent), and Denver (+135 percent) are looking for outdoor spots more than they were earlier this year.
When they’re not heading outside, people are sprucing up their homes. Searches for home and garden stores are increasing all around the country, with the highest spikes happening in Chicago (+77 percent), Detroit (+86 percent) and Cleveland (+96 percent).
No matter how you plan to spend the holidays, Google Maps is here to help you knock out your to-do list. Check out our favorite tips to keep your holidays as stress free as possible while staying safe, connected and organized.
For number nerds, here’s a behind-the-scenes look on where the trends data came from.
The holiday season is starting—which means time with friends, family, and lots of food. And though festivities may be a bit different this year, there are still creative, safe ways to celebrate and stay connected. No matter what you have in store for the holidays, these Google Maps tips can help you stay informed, stay connected and save time.
Stay informed even while running holiday errands and traveling
1. Check out how busy a place is:Popular times and live busyness information can tell you how crowded a place typically is on a given day or time—and even how busy it is right now. This is especially handy during the era of social distancing: Check out busyness on Maps before you head to a restaurant, store, business, or place to avoid holiday crowds and long waits.
2. (New!) Find the latest information about COVID-19: If you’re thinking about heading out of town to another city or state, you can use the COVID layer on Maps to quickly see how cases are trending in the area. You can also access quick links to authoritative local resources so you know at a glance if there are specific guidelines or restrictions in the area you’re visiting.
3. Quickly understand safety precautions from a business: If you’re eating out or getting a head start on your holiday shopping, you can easily learn more about what safety precautions a business is taking. Find out if they’re sanitizing between customers, if there’s safety dividers at checkout and if they require staff to have regular temperature checks.
If you need to, connect safely
4. Share your ETA:If you need to see loved ones, let them know when they can expect you to arrive with you just a few taps.
5. Don’t get lost: Planning to meet up with friends outdoors and at a distance? When a friend has chosen to share their location with you, you can easily tap on their icon and then on Live View to see where and how far away they are—with overlaid arrows and directions that help you know where to go.
Save time so you can spend more time enjoying the festivities
6. (New!) Get more done on drives:If you’re road tripping home, using voice with Google Assistant driving mode in Maps helps make the ride more convenient and enjoyable while keeping your focus on the road. Starting to roll out today as a preview, Android users in the U.S. can now get call alerts from Assistant, answer or decline calls by simply using their voice, quickly review incoming messages across apps in one place, and play podcasts and songs from hundreds of media providers—all without leaving the navigation screen.
7. (New!) Don’t let your food get cold: If you’re taking a low-key approach to the holidays this year and opting to order in instead of cooking an elaborate meal, Google Maps can help. When searching on your phone for restaurants nearby, you can easily sort by places that offer takeout or delivery and place your order directly from Google Maps. Now you can also see exactly when your order will be delivered or ready to pick up on the app’s home screen—because nobody likes cold turkey!
8. Search along your route: If you’re on the road and realize you need to make a stop—say you’re running low on gas or need to pick up a last-minute item from the market—use Google Maps to search for gas stations, grocery stores, or other places along your drive so you can tackle your tasks without going too far out of your way.
If you’ve ever been in a rush to grab a quick bite, you may know the pain that comes along with finding out that the restaurant you chose is packed and there’s nowhere to sit. Or maybe you need to pick up just one item from the grocery store, only to find that the line is out the door—derailing your plans and causing you unnecessary stress.
These problems were top of mind when Google Maps launched popular times and live busyness information—helpful features that let you see how busy a place tends to be on a given day and time or in a specific moment. This information has become a powerful tool during the pandemic, making it easier to social distance because you know in advance how crowded a place will be. Today, we’ll take a closer look at how we calculate busyness information, while keeping your data private and secure.
Popular times: making sense of historical busyness information
To calculate busyness insights, we analyze aggregated and anonymized Location History data from people who have opted to turn this setting on from their Google Account. This data is instrumental in calculating how busy a place typically is for every hour of the week. The busiest hour becomes our benchmark—and we then display busyness data for the rest of the week relative to that hour.
For example, say there’s a new ice cream shop down the block known for its homemade waffle cones 🍦. With Location History insights, our systems know that the shop is consistently most crowded on Saturday afternoons at 4 p.m. As a result, popular times information for the rest of the week will be displayed as “Usually as busy as it gets” when it’s approximately as busy as Saturday at 4 p.m.,“Usually not too busy” when it is much less busy, and “Usually a little busy” for somewhere in between. This data can also show how long people tend to spend at the ice cream shop, which is handy if you’re planning a day with multiple activities and want to know how much time to allocate at each place.
Making adjustments in times of COVID
Google Maps’ popular times algorithms have long been able to identify busyness patterns for a place. With social distancing measures established and businesses adjusting hours or even closing temporarily due to COVID-19, our historical data was no longer as reliable in predicting what current conditions would be. To make our systems more nimble, we began favoring more recent data from the previous four to six weeks to quickly adapt to changing patterns for popular times and live busyness information–with plans to bring a similar approach to other features like wait times soon.
Real-time busyness information: how busy a place is right now
Busyness patterns identified by popular times are useful—but what about when there are outliers? Shelter in place orders made local grocery stores much more busy than usual as people stocked up on supplies. Warm weather can cause crowds of people to flock to a nearby park. And a new promotion or discount can drive more customers to nearby stores and restaurants.
Take the ice cream shop again. Say that, knowing that business is slow on Tuesdays, the shop owners decide to host a three scoop sundae giveaway on a Tuesday to promote their newest flavor—because everyone loves free ice cream! The promotion brings in more than double the amount of customers they typically see on that day and time. Gleaning insights from Location History data in real time, our systems are able to detect this spike in busyness and display it as “Live” data in Google Maps so you can see how busy the shop is right now—even if it varies drastically from its typical busyness levels.
Making sure your data is private, safe and secure
Privacy is a top priority when calculating busyness, and it’s woven into every step of the process. We use an advanced statistical technique known as differential privacy to ensure that busyness data remains anonymous. Differential privacy uses a number of methods, including artificially adding “noise” to our Location History dataset to generate busyness insights without ever identifying any individual person. And if our systems don’t have enough data to provide an accurate, anonymous busyness recommendation, we don’t publish it—which is why there are times when you may not see busyness information for a place at all.
Google Maps is always thinking about ways to solve the problems you face throughout your day, whether they’re big (like getting around safely) or small (like quickly snagging your favorite scoop of ice cream). Check out the Maps 101 series for other under-the-hood looks at your favorite features, with more deep dives coming soon.
Google Maps helps you navigate, explore, and get things done every single day. In this series, we’ll take a look under the hood at how Google Maps uses technology to build helpful products—from using flocks of sheep and laser beams to gather high-definition imagery to predicting traffic jams that haven’t even happened yet.
People turn to Google Maps for accurate, fresh information about what’s going on in the world—especially so during the pandemic. Activities like picking up something from the store, going for a walk, or grabbing a bite to eat now require a significant amount of planning and preparation. At any given time, you may be thinking: “Does the place I’m headed to have enough room for social distancing?” or “What safety precautions are being taken at my destination?”
Today, as part of our Search On event, we’re announcing new improvements to arm you with the information you need to navigate your world safely and get things done.
Make informed decisions with new live busyness updates
The ability to see busyness information on Google Maps has been one of our most popular features since it launched back in 2016. During the pandemic, this information has transformed into an essential tool, helping people quickly understand how busy a place is expected to be so they can make better decisions about where to go and when. In fact, as people around the world adjusted to life during the pandemic, they used popular times and live busyness information more. We saw engagement with these features rise 50 percent between March and May as more people tapped, scrolled and compared data to find the best days and times to go places.
We’ve been expanding live busyness information to millions of places around the world, and are on track to increase global coverage by five times compared to June 2020. This expansion includes more outdoor areas, like beaches and parks, and essential places, like grocery stores, gas stations, laundromats and pharmacies. Busyness information will surface in directions and right on the map—so you don’t even need to search for a specific place in order to see how busy it is. This will soon be available to Android, iOS and desktop users worldwide.
A new way to source up-to-date business information
It’s hard to know how a business’ offerings have changed during the pandemic. To help people find the freshest business information possible, we’ve been using Duplex conversational technology to call businesses and verify their information on Maps and Search. Since April 2020, this information has helped make more than 3 million updates, including updated hours of operation, delivery and pickup options, and store inventory information for in-demand products such as face masks, hand sanitizer and disinfectant. To date, these updates have been viewed more than 20 billion times.
Important health and safety information about businesses is now front and center on Maps and Search. You can quickly know what safety precautions a business is taking, such as if they require customers to wear masks and make reservations, if there’s plexiglass onsite, or if their staff takes regular temperature checks. This information comes directly from businesses, and soon Google Maps users will also be able to contribute this useful information.
See helpful information right from Live View
Getting around your city looks different these days. The stakes are higher due to safety concerns, and it’s important to have all the information you need before deciding to visit a place. In the coming months, people using Android and iOS devices globally will be able to use Live View, a feature that uses AR to help you find your way, to learn more about a restaurant, store or business.
Say you’re walking around a new neighborhood, and one boutique in particular captures your attention. You’ll be able to use Live View to quickly learn if it’s open, how busy it is, its star rating, and health and safety information if available,