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11 Aug 2007
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Whose Directions to Follow: the Innkeeper's or Mapquest's?

We had an arriving family get lost on the way here last night. They should have been here in the evening but they arrived hours later, some time after 11:00 if my memory is correct.

They were exhausted and frazzled. What should have been a pleasant and relaxing evening on our garden deck, living room, or pub/game room was instead spent driving around the dark countryside, lost and frustrated.

What went wrong? We sent them directions in their email confirmation letter. But they choose to use Mapquest. After all, it always, or nearly always, worked in the past, right?

I'm going to write some more about this below but if you just want to get to the point of this article, here it is: someone, probably everyone, who lives in any area of the world has a good understanding about driving in that area. More so than a roomful of mapping software people in Dilbert cubicles in San Jose or Bombay. If you want to get somewhere, go local to get directions. They can provide helpful landmarks ("turn left at the red barn with three silos") while Mapquest and other such sites, do not.

Let's say Mapquest is perfect and knows where every address is in the USA, one of the largest and most complex countries in the world. They know everything there is to know about every street, highway, alley, driveway, and old dirt road. Would I use them? Sure. And I have. Many times. But if a local tells me how to find him, I will just use Mapquest to get me to the area and then I will switch over to the local's directions.

Let's say that there was no problem with Mapquest's directions to our inn. You would still have to follow the directions precisely. One missed landmark, or wrong turn, and you are sunk if you don't realize right away that you made a mistake.

Our guest made a wrong turn somewhere, drove into some remotely settled part of the countryside in the middle of a very dark night and drove for hours trying to figure out what went wrong. No stores or gas stations were open. They tried to use their cell phone but cell phone coverage in the mountains around here is spotty at best.

Here is another tip: if you get a decent cell phone signal in Vermont, STOP! Otherwise you will drive out of it in a minute or two. The exceptions are some larger towns like Burlington.

The underlying problem was that Mapquest told them the shortest route to take. I told them the best route to take. My directions would have added about five minutes to their trip but were far less likely to get them lost and, if they did make a wrong turn, it would be easy to re-find the correct road or to stop and ask at an all night gas station because my directions took them through a large town instead of remote countryside.

(c) 2007 Jeff Connor
posted by  grunhaus at  23:02