Whether you have an Android phone, an iPhone, or you’re looking at Google Maps on your computer, you’ve surely experienced a time when you know a particular road on your route has changed since the last map update. If you’re using Google Maps Navigation in the car to get somewhere, you know this experience to be particularly frustrating. Or, if you’re getting driving directions to a particular store or business in an unfamiliar area, only to arrive at the place Google Maps directed you to, just to find out they’ve moved locations.
While I certainly believe Google Maps to be the truest, most comprehensive set of mapping data available to us as consumers, it’s not without fault. After running into more than a few of these errors, I started wondering just how often Google actually updates Maps with new roads, neighborhoods, businesses, etc. Here’s what I found out.
Google uses data from multiple different sources to create Maps. Actual road maps are updated at a different interval than satellite view maps, and those are updated differently than Street View maps, which are updated differently than Google Earth. What this means: depending on which piece of Google Maps you’re using, you very well might be looking at different (read: current or outdated) data. However, the biggest benefit to using Google Maps for navigation and directions is that they update their maps more frequently than other GPS / mapping service providers, thanks in part to users’ feedback.
Google Satellite Imagery
Answer: Every 2 weeks
The generally accepted update time for Google’s Satellite imagery is “every 2 weeks”. That can vary depending on your location and the availability of data (and a clear, cloud-free day), but that’s something to go by. I checked a few locations I frequent just to see if I could spot any small differences that would be an indicator of an updated map, and in my location (Wichita, KS), I found a few that were consistent with that. For example, my car was in the shop being repaired the last part of July and the first week of August and I was driving an old green truck I borrowed from a friend. Sure enough, it’s in the Satellite view right in front of my office where my black car usually sits.
Maps as you typically think of them are a little different, since they’re not as easy to capture and update. With road maps that you’d use for driving directions, updates are a lot harder to come by, and have to be verified. Google has done a few things here to help speed up the flow of updates and to improve accuracy. Whether you’re on your phone on on your computer, there’s a “Help & Feedback” link that will allow you to report errors in Google Maps data.
If you’re on your computer, you can even help update it with accurate information and then peer review changes submitted by other locals in your area. I checked out a local business listing that moved locations and verified they are in fact at the new address. Here’s how the process went.
Step 1: Select the business from the list that you can actually verify. Depending on the status of the update request submitted, you’ll have to confirm it to be true (they closed down, they moved locations, they changed their business category, the updated their phone number, etc).
Step 2 (optional): Provide some feedback confirming (or disputing) the change request submitted.
After a change has been verified by enough local users (the exact number of which is ambiguous, it seems), it’ll be updated in the public version of Google Maps for the entire world to see. It’s a great strategy for Google to ensure their local maps are updated frequently and accurately.
What types of changes can you submit to be updated? Well, just about anything.
Using the Map Maker tool within the Help & Feedback section, you can add places, POIs, landmarks, roads, rivers, railways, building outlines, parks, lakes, and even entire cities and towns.
Google Street View
This one I’ve not been able to get (or find) a straight answer for. Looking at a few places here in Wichita, I’ve found some that I can tell have been updated in the last 6 months, and others that don’t look like they’ve been updated in a couple years. I reached out to Google for an official statement on Street View updates, but have yet to hear back.
Looking at Google’s “Behind the Scenes” Street View page, they’re currently driving in 37 states here in the U.S. They don’t indicate where they’ll be next, but if you’re in one of the areas listed, it’s safe to assume Street View in your area will be updated soon. Outside of those areas, they say:
We try to make sure the information is accurate and kept up-to-date, but because of factors outside our control (such as weather, road closures, etc.), it’s possible that our cars may not be operating, or may be operating in areas that are not listed.
Answer: Twice a Month
The short answer to how often Google Earth gets updated is twice each month, usually around the 6th and 20th. However, these aren’t major, global updates. Each update covers small groups of cities or geographic regions. As a general rule, Google tries to ensure all areas are updated at least every two years. One caveat, however, is after major natural disasters. During and after these, Google updates the satellite imagery in those areas more frequently, with the goal of helping first responders and rescue crews with the latest available satellite imagery.
If you find an area in Google Earth that hasn’t been updated in the last two years, chances are great that it’ll be part of an upcoming update.
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