The Nairobi Metropolitan area has not only expanded in density, it’s also a completely different landscape from what it was a few years back. A good way to help you picture this is to ask you – if you live in Nairobi – to check your neighbourhood now and compare it to the period just before the 2020 lockdown and note down everything that has changed. You’ll notice a lot has.
From new residential apartments, to new businesses, and most importantly new roads.
Google Maps is the main way of moving around a city as big as Nairobi. I don’t know if there are other mapping apps with the data that Google has. And I doubt there’s another platform that can be built right now to rival Maps.
For millions of people living in the Nairobi Metropolitan Area, moving between work and home, and between different parts of the city requires the daily use of Google Maps. This is both for directions and for traffic data. However, I’ve noticed that Google doesn’t really understand the city as it is now, and will at times fail you in three ways:
- Maps takes you to the wrong address
- Maps chooses a way longer route, without suggesting the newer shorter/faster routes.
- Maps constantly fails on estimated time of arrival
Given Google Maps is open source, you’d expect that some of the issues we see in Nairobi to be things that can be quickly fixed. However there are limitations on what local guides (Level 8) like myself can edit on the platform in this region. For example:
- We can’t update names of roads on Maps.
- We can’t update the length of a road, and how it should be called between different points as it changes.
- We can’t let Google Maps know if some of the roads listed are tiny foot paths and not fit for vehicles.
- Adding diversions incase of accidents, or road constructions is not available.
Google needs to open up these features for open-source contribution. If that’s impossible, send out teams to constantly check and update everything.
Google takes forever to send out their mapping team to checkout parts of the city so as to include new information to the platform. A good example is Streetview. What you see on Streetview in the parts of Nairobi that have it enabled, and what you see in real-life can be very different. Which further confuses you when looking for an area in real life.
The same is the case with Satellite view. The images provided on Satellite view are so dated, they don’t really paint a picture of the reality on the ground.
Of course these aren’t highly sought after features within this market. But that shouldn’t rule them out from updates. One can even argue they’re not highly sought after because they’re never reliable!
Update Nairobi Metropolitan Roads please:
Since this isn’t a feature open to public contribution, Google needs to do something about all the new roads. And there are many new roads in Nairobi. These include freshly built ones like the Express Way, or Dualled Highways like the Western Bypass, or new tarmacs between different estates.
These new roads need to be included as options on Google Maps including new time estimates, how to access them, and more.
The Express Way is actually what Google needs to immediately work on. There needs to be a proper mapping of all the entry and exit points including how they’ve been named and the possible time estimates to whatever destinations depending on where you enter from and where you exit with.
There needs to be information that it can be used as an alternative to the main road, how much time one can save, and the estimates in toll charges depending on the types of vehicles.
The new dual highways need to be included too, with the different exits and entries and the new time estimates.
If Google Maps is to remain a trustworthy companion in an ever-changing city like Nairobi, there needs to be a lot more push into having accurate data that is constantly updated. There’s now a Product Development Centre in Nairobi, we need to see not only new products, but also better maintenance and localisation of existing products.