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Updated: October 22, 2012 15:24 IST

Mining map-usage to chart trends

Deepa Kurup
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Most-searched category in Bangalore is educational institutes, Google finds

What do Internet search trends tell us about human behaviour? Google Inc. believes that map search trends could tell us a lot about how a city thinks, or rather, what a city looks for. Sisyphean

While these ‘trends’ may not really be as indicative of the city’s psyche as Google projects, given the low level of Internet penetration and lower level of mobile Internet usage, (the 2011 census found only 18 per cent of the city has Internet access) it does indicate what map users in this ‘wired city’ are looking for.

In Bangalore, the most-searched category was educational institutes, Google’s data mining for September 2012 revealed. In Delhi, cafes topped the list, while in Mumbai resto-bars were the most sought after.

Top four categories

Google’s compilation presents the top four most-searched categories in the three cities. So while Mumbai and Delhi had a lot of people searching for religious places, Delhi had a large number of users searching for tourist destinations, and Mumbaikars seemed to be on the lookout for movie halls.

In Bangalore, the top five educational institutes searched for were the NMKRV College for Women, the Indian Institute of Management, the BMS College of Engineering, M.S. Ramaiah Colleges and the National Institute of Fashion Technology. Besides these, the three other top search categories, are: hotels, malls and healthcare institutions.

The analyst folks at Google interpret this as indicative of Bangalore’s status as a healthcare destination, and its young and upwardly mobile crowd that hangs out at malls.

Overall, hotels emerged as the most-searched-for destination across all three cities. Interestingly, the list does not feature either the popular darshinis, the MTRs or Koshy’s; instead, it’s a list of top five-star hotels.

It’s a landmark

Lalitesh Katragadda, Google India, Country Head (Products), and one of the brains behind Google MapMaker, concedes that this doesn’t mean that Bangaloreans, or map users, frequent these places. “Obviously, all these people searching for five star hotels are not actually eating or boarding there. They’re using them as landmarks,” he explains.

The landmarks phenomenon he says is one of those “socio-cultural things”, where people in India tend to look for addresses using landmarks, compared to those in developed countries where people go strictly by addresses. “We’re more of an oral culture,” Mr. Katragadda points out, adding that the entire concept of adding landmarks as a layer or feature on maps, globally, was an idea conceived in India.

A Google research report on mobile behaviour noted that 46 per cent of smartphone users in India are using their handsets to look for directions and explore maps. That is, in the Indian market, mobile phones are being used for calls and SMSs to a device that’s providing entertainment, information and services such as maps, on the go.

Recent services such as traffic updates — offered in six big Indian cities since September — and turn-by-turn navigations are also doing well, Google claims.

‘Encouraging response’

“The response is encouraging. In fact, India is one of the few countries where we launched traffic updates and navigation features together. We’re seeing a shift of habit where people are using maps to get around the city. For the first time, people are using their phones to commute, and the traffic service is hugely relevant given the unpredictable nature of traffic in India,” Mr. Katragadda explains.

He adds that India is a huge and important market for Google Maps, and they hope these services will accelerate that growth.

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