Google’s crowdsourced traffic reports will hurt radio

Colour-coded lines show traffic congestion in Google Maps for Mobile.

Colour-coded lines show traffic congestion in Google Maps for Mobile.

“It’s stop and go on the bridge.” “Watch out for that deer on the 102.”

The voices are a staple of local radio — listeners calling in to report traffic conditions. On-air updates build audiences, involve listeners and bring advertisers to morning and afternoon shows.

But Google believes it can deliver traffic reports faster and with more accuracy by harnessing the power of mobile users.

Google announced today it was bringing the power of crowd-sourced data to its Traffic layer in Google Maps, currently available only in the U.S.

Users of Google Maps for Mobile have to allow Google to see their location first. But when they do, they contribute traffic data anonymously and effortlessly as they travel. Their GPS-enabled mobile phone contributes their location and aggregates it with others to form a live picture of traffic in the area. Its announcement states:

When we combine your speed with the speed of other phones on the road, across thousands of phones moving around a city at any given time, we can get a pretty good picture of live traffic conditions. We continuously combine this data and send it back to you for free in the Google Maps traffic layers.

Google also announced it was expanding its Traffic layer to cover all U.S. highways and arterial roads.

Google has the leading mobile map app. While it’s competing with standalone GPS providers such as TomTom and Garmin in providing driving assistance, the division between smartphones and standalone devices is already starting to fall. TomTom released its turn-by-turn maps as an iPhone app 10 days ago — the first company to do so.

Google’s move is yet another grab at services traditionally provided by news media — services that bring revenues to support local newsrooms. While newspapers have had their audiences slashed by aggregators of news and classified listings, radio has remained relatively unscathed by advances in online technology.

The move puts radio producers on notice that they too need to find other ways of strengthening listener interaction.

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