Precise directions to the shop that Google killed
A world map depicting what the Earth would look like upside down leans against the front door of Mapworld’s temporary digs in Henry Deane Plaza in Sydney.
Appropriate, because the world of selling maps has been completely turned on its head in the past decade. The market for map purchases has shrunk dramatically thanks to new technologies like Google Maps and your GPS.
Inside, the store is buzzing. Senior map consultant Izzy Perko barely has the time to stop and chat as he flits amongst shelves packed with maps of Hill End and Hamburg to check on customers. He suggests to one that they’re really looking for a more detailed map than what they’ve chosen. He’ll be with the woman looking for maps of walking trails in the Blue Mountains in a moment. Not too many moments though, because he and three of his colleagues will be unemployed come Saturday.
It’s a real pity, because technology can’t do what they do. Izzy’s job doesn’t just involve pushing buttons on a cash register. The staff possess a mix of customer service, cartography and travel advice-dispensing skills that you can’t get from many other places.
Map customers often need a human guide, and Izzy is brimming with knowledge that comes from experience exploring New South Wales and the world.
Why? Well, for instance, many tourists visit the store. Most have a poor sense of the scale of Sydney and many are astonished the city consists of thousands of suburbs. Some think Sydney is New South Wales when they ask for a map and get confused when they’re presented with a map that includes Broken Hill, in the state’s far west, but not Burwood, in the capital’s inner-west.
People need different levels of detail for different maps. And Izzy says: “You can’t get that from Google Maps”. You can get it from someone like Izzy though, or one his colleagues who know Australian bushwalking trails like the back of their hand.
Izzy gives the example of a group of surfers from the Sutherland Shire in Sydney’s south looking for maps to find wave breaks in Indonesia. Your GPS can’t tell you where to find that. Google can’t tell you the best place to go rockclimbing in the Corryong-Thredbo area.
And while you may have the luxury of not having to fold up (or battle to fold up) your iPhone like you do a map, some people just like having the physical presence of a map on them. A lot of Mapworld’s foot traffic have more wrinkled hands that prefer to hold a real, creased-up map. It’s the same kind of thing as whether pressing a button on an eBook can really compare with wearing down the pages of a classic novel.
Despite losing his job, Izzy is an optimist when it comes to technology and the future of the map industry.
And why wouldn’t he be? While technologies like Google Maps may be linked to making his job irrelevant, Google Maps started in Sydney - and made many new jobs here. And satellite mapping technology has allowed many more people access to information.
“It can only get better,” he says. He reckons technology like fold-up LCD screens where you can hold a map in front of you are coming sooner rather than later. You’d be able to interact with custom-made maps - adding your own perspectives for future map-users - and vary their level of detail.
The Sydney CBD Mapworld closes for the last time on Saturday. The business is shifting towards an online model, although there’s still a store in Perth.
“There’ll always be maps in some shape or form,” Izzy told The Punch yesterday.
Sometimes, though, the best compass is a human one.
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