Categories: Google

How Do Google Maps Instantly Know Traffic Patterns Around the Globe?

I’m at the Dreamforce event in San Francisco reporting on some of the newest trends in technology for my friends at HubSpot.

Today, I was able to watch the keynote presentation from Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO of Salesforce.com and Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google. Marc and Eric spent more than an hour discussing some of the newest trends in technology, sales and marketing.

One of the amazing tidbits of information I learned during the session was how Google can provide instantaneous updates on traffic for their Google Maps. As you know, Google Maps is  available on Android, iPhone and other operating systems and indicates traffic congestion by highlighting the streets in red, yellow or green depending on how bad the traffic is.

How do they do that? I mean, how do they know the traffic congestion in cities around the globe? More importantly, how do they get that information so quickly?

I always assumed Google had worked out deals with various Departments of Transportation around the globe. My thinking was that Google would get updates on traffic from these departments and upload the information into their computers.


Google, being the smart folks that they are, figured out an even more ingenious way to collect the data. But before I tell you their solution, why don’t you pause for a moment and see if you can figure it out. (If you can, you’re much smarter than I am. I’ve pondered this for quite a while — okay, I’m boring that way — and never arrived at Google’s amazingly simple solution.)

Ready for the answer?

Rather than setting up agreements with hundreds of departments around the U.S. (and around the globe), Google lets the data do the talking. (No surprise, given the fact that the company employs tens of thousands of world class statisticians.)

What do I mean when I say that Google lets the data do the talking? It’s simple, really. Google’s Android Operating System tracks the movement of people carrying their phones. In other words, they track the statistical data that shows where Android users are at that moment.

I use the phrase “statistical data” intentionally, because Google tracks anonymous data. (Relax, privacy advocates.) In other words, Google doesn’t know that you’re stuck in traffic, they simply know that thousands of anonymous bits of data are stuck in traffic.

Congratulations. You’re a bit of data.

I mention all this partly because I’m a bit of a Geek and I ponder this kind of stuff. But I also mention it because it shows you just how brilliant the folks at Google actually are.

I can’t wait to see what else they have up their sleeves, especially when it comes to mobile.

If Mobile Phones and Mobile Marketing Interest You, Read On. As I mentioned, I’m here at Dreamforce on behalf of one of our sponsors, HubSpot, who is doing some really interesting stuff on the mobile lead generation front.

If you’d like to learn more about mobile marketing, check out HubSpot’s Free Mobile Marketing Kit which provides information in QR Codes, Mobile Marketing Case Studies and a Mobile Marketing Checklist. It’s packed with great information.


Jamie Turner is the co-author of How to Make Money with Social Media. He is the Founder of the 60 Second Marketer where he writes articles about mobile media and social media. He is also a popular marketing speaker at events, trade shows and corporations around the globe.

View Comments (4)

  • Did Eric actually say that in the conference? Or is this your own interpretation of what Google does? I'm just curious, that's all :)

    • Hi, Gwyneth -- Thanks for your question. The conference was a year ago, but how Google does maps was definitely specific data I learned at the conference. I don't know for sure if it was Eric that said it or someone else from Google, but I do know that when I heard it, I said, "Aha! I've always wondered how they do that. Can't wait to share this on the blog!"

      Thanks for stopping by. See you again soon.


      • Thanks :) I was curious about it, since I had this idea of using your information in a discussion with a few friends... but didn't want to say "Google does it in this way and that's why they have such good maps" and getting laughed at :)