Even With Travel Tech, It’s The Data That Matters!

xmarksthespot“We do not follow maps to buried treasure and X never, ever marks the spot.”  Movie trivia for today: What movie is this from?

Answer: Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade…of course!

On our recent trip to Puerto Rico, it often felt like we were following a treasure map and looking for the X to mark the spot.  It wasn’t just because the island is the stuff of old pirate stories.  No, the very real and current issue was that we were having challenges with GPS and our map apps. At first, I thought it was just simple user error.  However, after entering some very well-known or basic requests and getting odd results, I really started to wonder.  So when I asked a local man and he said, “GPS doesn’t work in Puerto Rico”, I really started to get intrigued (I also got a headache but the techy side of my brain was intrigued).  The rest of the trip, we joked that “Puerto Rican GPS” is this: “…go ALLLLL the way down to the Burger King and turn right…then go ALLL the way down…” – you get the picture.

So what is the issue?  We were able to find our way around by entering just the names of the towns and then asked for more detailed “landmark” instructions.  When we returned, I started to do a little research and realized that I wasn’t the only one having troubles.  To be fair, GPS DOES work in Puerto Rico, it’s just that you have to be careful in how you enter….wait for it…the data! I realized just how important data standardization is when dealing with this GPS issue.  The challenge is that sometimes the “official” address differs somewhat from the “commonly known” address….OR…there are additional concepts added that aren’t widely know.  The concept of the “urbanization” as part of the address helped us find some locations.  Layer that with some information being in Spanish and others in English, I started to realize how difficult it would be for a GPS-enabled app to successfully find some places.

As this issue is very widely known by people living in Puerto Rico, some are making efforts to get down the most basic of data points for GPS: latitude and longitude.  In this story, KMart (that incidentally has a much bigger presence in PR than they do on the mainland) takes this cue and list their lat/long coordinates.  This worked extremely well for another adventure also: we were on the small island of Vieques and on the hunt for a newly discovered black-sand beach.  Through a few minutes of goole’ing, we found someone who listed the coordinates…the GPS took us right to the seemingly random part of a deserted road that had no signage…but viola, there it was!  Latitude and longitude work every time.  In looking at some of the information on google geocoding, its clear that a good amount of address information can be deciphered fairly easily.  It’s just when the data strays for some accepted standards that the results are problematic.

Another instance of data being important is with restaurant finder apps.  In most place in the ‘states, I find Yelp and Urban Spoon fairly comparable.  However, when going anywhere outside (and we’ve seen this in Europe too), Yelp is “head and shoulders” above Urban Spoon.  Even in PR, we found the data in Yelp (location, hours, etc..) very accurate and we were able to find reviews on every restaurant we went to.  So we could tell if the “lechon” (roast pork) was fatty or not…or the “bacalao” (a type of cod) was good or not.  We also found a local app, sal.pr to be very useful too (although, you kind of have to be able to read Spanish).  We had a great time and actually didn’t mind (too much) the GPS issues as it gave us some great stories.  We were on vacation after all and were looking for a little adventure…we just never found that “X” marking the spot!

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Veteran technology professional and manager

Posted in big data, Travel

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