Every time you’re looking for a restaurant, hair dresser or interview location, Google Maps is there. Every time you’re walking around the block, calling an Uber, or planning an overseas trip, Google Maps is there. Basically, every time you leave your house/dorm/socially-minded artists’ commune, Google Maps is there, providing you instant directions to get where you want to go.
If this sounds like you, then you’re among friends – in fact, among a billion other people who regularly use Google Maps. With a user base like that, it’s hard not to consider Google Maps a winner. However, have you ever considered what drives Google Maps’ continued success? How does Google Maps structure its operating and business model, and utilise digital innovations, to become and remain, a winner? The answer all starts with you because…
It’s powered by a virtuous cycle of crowd-sourced information
In today’s world of always on, always connected smartphones, Google Maps is able to access the location and speed of you and millions of other individuals in real time. Within this data lies tremendous potential.
As early as 2009, Google Maps started harnessing this information to deliver real-time traffic information. This allows Google Maps to generate more accurate travel time estimates and more efficient navigation recommendations. This geospatial tracking also presents other quirky benefits such as identifying when certain locations (e.g., restaurants) are most popular.
In addition to crowd-sourcing passively-collected data, Google Maps also asks users to actively contribute. Users can suggest edits or additions, or even draw parts of the map itself using MapMaker.
‘Suggest an edit’ functionality in Google Maps
MapMaker map editing tools
All of this crowd-sourced information helps improve the Google Maps experience, creating a virtuous cycle of a better product and more users. Google Maps can then capture value from businesses who want to leverage its immense user base to deliver targeted advertising.
Google Maps’ virtuous cycle of crowd-sourcing
Of course, there’s still only so much that humans are capable of doing so…
It utilises machine learning to scale and create competitive advantage
Machine learning is one of the ultimate buzzwords in the digital space. Basically, it refers to algorithms that allow computers to improve the way they function without necessitating further human intervention. Humans provide examples and the computer figures it out from there using the observations it encounters.
Machine learning is a key component in Google Maps’ ability to cover the entire world without having human input on every piece of information. One application is using object recognition in conjunction with Street View to provide automated navigational guidance on roads and intersections. It is also used to scrape information on local businesses such as opening hours and contact information, improving Google Maps’ comprehensiveness and therefore usefulness.
Things Google Maps’ machine learning algorithms identify from Street View to improve navigation 
The more data that’s fed into the system, the smarter and more accurate it gets, the further ahead Google Maps races from any competitors that might want to play ‘catch up’ (*ahem* Apple Maps *ahem*).
However, rather than just creating a high-functioning product, Google Maps has also embedded itself in the digital ecosystem and made itself indispensable because…
It powers and captures value from other digital winners
In its wake, Google Maps has left behind a slew of defeated competitors like the physical map and in-car navigation systems. However, it has also created a whole new generation of winners through allowing other applications to use its features via its application program interface (API).
For the vast majority of API users, the service is entirely free. However, once an API user goes over a certain usage limit, or uses Google Maps in a paid commercial endeavour, Google Maps starts charging based on usage volume. With this business model, Google Maps encourages all developers to utilise it but gets to capture a chunk of the value when a program becomes popular.
As a result, Google Maps has become a core component of many other digital winners such as Uber (when it first started), TripAdvisor, and Airbnb. No doubt, it will also power many of the winners that have not yet (fully) emerged such as self-driving cars, and virtual and augmented reality – helping to increase the overall value created for society while making sure that it captures its share.
 MapMaker is slated to be shut down in March 2017 and its features migrated to Google Maps
 A Google project whereby panoramic photos are being taken along streets around the world