Over the last few months an increasing number of people have told me to go to Google Maps and to plan a route from somewhere in England to somewhere in the US. What happens, is that within the detailed directions given by Google you are told to swim 3,400 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. This is funny. Google have spoken.
For various reasons, it annoyed me at the time but I behaved and kept myself quiet. Unfortunatey, as usual, the trigger for me ranting was a story about it appearing on my Wireless today.
The point is that Google Maps tries to put itself across as a serious route planning system. I assume the “Swim across the Atlantic” thing was either genuinely put in by some wit of a programmer (yes, I did restrain myself from adding a prefix to a word in that sentence) or more likely, it was designed by the Church of Googleology’s Viral Marketing Team to appear that way so that people would talk about it.
Ok, well let’s play this game and have a look at it, shall we? I will go to http://maps.google.com/ and I will select “Get Directions”. I think today I will go from “Cambridge, UK” to “Maryland, US” (I want a cookie, ok?). It tells me that I will have to drive 4,211 miles (about 29 days 13 hours).
The route is roughly: Cambridge to Folkestone, then on a train ferry to Calais (France). From there I do some weird little circular tour of Northern France before reaching Google’s humourous:
Swim across the Atlantic Ocean (3,462 mi) Entering United States (Massachusetts)
Ok, assuming I do that – I get into the US in Boston and then wriggle south by road until I get to Maryland.
… Where do I start? Ok, well how about the initial part of the route – Assuming I am going to make a long swim, I would prefer to head from Cambridge, south-west across the country to Northern Cornwall and then start swimming. What’s all this nonesense with taking me into France, and then putting my swim start 150 miles east of where I want to be? And why did it let me take a ferry into France, but not take a boat over the Atlantic to the US?
Assuming I am going to do the swim, then why does it detour me north to Boston when I may as well swim directly into Delaware and then take a nice little hop by land to my Maryland Cookie shop?
There is also the rather obvious point that nobody has ever done a 3,400 mile plus swim across the Atlantic and even if they were going to, it would be rather impractical. I can hear people muttering “You are taking this too seriously” and you are right, I am but see… There are other routes that are actually possible, and Google Maps hasn’t showed them to me; they’d rather have a silly little viral marketing opportunity than have the program give out a correct result.
Back to Google maps, let’s plan a route from “Cambridge, UK” to “Anchorage, AK” (Alaska). Same old wriggle into France, same old swim to Boston and a long land journey across the US and Canada, into Alaska and to Anchorage. 8,335 miles in all. That’s just plain odd.
Ok, how about “Cambridge, UK” to somewhere in Russia? Google Maps isn’t very hot on Russia so we may as well just go for Moscow. Now look! A change of tack here and it is looking a little more promising. Once more we get a ferry into France (I’d have taken the tunnel, but I won’t argue on this small point but it does mean that in theory, it is a walkable route). The route then takes us through Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belarus and finally into Russia. We then stroll merrily by land into Moscow for a well earned Vodka and Pierogi lunch. Who needs cookies!
So sit with me a while, sipping our vodkas and let’s have a look at a map of the world. Take a look at that huge great bloody land-mass to the east of Moscow. The land-mass that goes all the way to the Bering Straight, a 90km stretch of water that separates the far east point of Russia from the far west point of the United States. If your atlas is good it may mention that the 90km stretch is quite often frozen so you could actually walk over it. In fact in 2006, a couple of people did ( link ). Even if there is no walking path, a 90km swim is going to be a lot easier than a 5,630km swim, in the sense that it would actually be possible. If you are actually interested then this page has lots of advice on making the crossing. I found the page using Google Search, it was pretty much at the top of the list.
See my point here now? You can get from Cambridge, England to Maryland, USA on foot. Every stretch has been done but Google Maps would rather trade accuracy and quality of information for a cheap viral marketing gag.
Obviously, the Church of Googleology believe in a flat earth and so it is decreed, will users of Google Maps.