Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Beware: Your truck may not fit!

With the advent of Amazon.com, the publishing community rapidly understood the value of deeper descriptive information necessary to merchandise products in the virtual world. Initially, we were concerned with provision of cover images and marketing blurbs, then author bios and tables of content and on everafter. Our experience is not unique and in all industries and product segments deeper more descriptive information is now being sought to enable web browsers, service providers and consumers to make better more informed decisions.

There are many examples but I was immediately struck in this article about satellite navigation and driving instructions in the UK. The article (NYTimes) focuses on the negative impact of computerized driving instructions and how they can sometimes be too literal. It is no longer a matter of simply providing a geographic description and route map between two points. As more and more people and vehicles rely on these systems, the data elements required to build a viable route that doesn't create some of the issues mentioned in this article will need to include items such as road width, (tight) turnings, bridge weight limits, speed limits, hill length, season variations - like snow or ice conditions - and the list could go on and on. From the article:
“Foreign drivers very much depend on sat nav systems when they’re coming to a different country, and they are following them rather more blindly than they ought to,” Mr. Dossetter said. Last month, a Slovakian truck driver arrived in Dover, bound for Wales with 22 tons of paper. But, directed off the highway and onto increasingly narrow roads by his navigation system, he ended up wedged on a tiny lane between two houses in Mereworth, a village in Kent, whereupon he had a panic attack, jumped out of his truck, and burst into tears. “He got back in his lorry and tried to maneuver his way out, but he was starting to scrape against the front walls,” Mark Siggers, a resident, told a local newspaper. He also knocked down the village’s power cables, cutting off the electricity. It took the authorities several days to remove his mangled truck.
Imagine the poor guy having to report back to head office that he got their truck wedged between two buildings. Just exactly how these navigation systems will incorporate this deeper (metagraphic?) data into their systems so mistakes like these don't happen could represent a monumental task. It is a problem perhaps perfectly placed for the application of social networking. The truck driver above should be able to wipe away the tears and document his experience in some manner that will improve the navigation for the next European truck driver.

The lesson of Amazon.com is that the development of better descriptive information is an on going struggle; Amazon hasn't stopped improving merchandising and has always recognized the more data elements the better. I suspect that many other industries are and will embark on data collection efforts (and seek data from their vendors and customers) that improves the service or products they provide.

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