Archives for Vijay Bangaru

  1. At MapQuest, maps and directions are the foundation of how we’ve been helping people get where they want to go for over 16 years. And when you’re going somewhere new or unfamiliar, whether it’s a new restaurant in town, a weekend trip to the mountains, or that big cross country road trip, you’ve come to trust companies like MapQuest to get you there.

    As MapQuest grows, we don’t want to just get people where they want to go. We want to inspire them to explore new places. And the way we do that is by extending our products and services to help throughout the entire trip-cycle: inspiring, planning, experiencing, and sharing travels and adventures.

    Putting all these experiences together in an engaging platform will let one person’s account of their trip or a professional travel article inspire others to travel. And when they share their adventures, it will then inspire more fellow travelers.

    Today we’re excited to announce MapQuest Discover. This early beta focuses on the inspiration piece of the trip-cycle by providing a photo-centric social and travel experience centered on places that people may want to explore, whether it’s for a night out, weekend trip, or vacation of a lifetime.

    Users of Discover can create and share collections of favorite places (“My favorite pubs” or “The Best Golf Courses in North America”) or make bucket lists (“100 Places to see before I kick the bucket”). In addition to these user-generated collections, Discover contains travel guides written by travel experts.

    MapQuest Discover’s homepage is an infinitely scrolling newsfeed of popular Places, Collections and Travel Guides. From here, users can quickly Like a Place, mark that they have Been to a Place, or Add a Place to one of their own Collections.

    Collection pages include photos of all the Places in the Collection and also have a Leaderboard which shows which Discover users have been to the most Places in that Collection, providing for good natured bragging rights (“I’ve been to 49 of the 50 states!”). A user’s Passport serves as their profile page and shows all the places a user has been, collections they created, and more.

    To complement MapQuest Discover and add more depth to our user’s travel planning experience, we’ve overhauled MapQuest Local. These redesigned pages about states, cities, places, and neighborhoods now contain reviews, deals, travel guides, related collections, and all the new features from MapQuest Discover.

    For over 16 years, MapQuest has played an important role in helping people navigate the world. With the launch of MapQuest Discover and the overhaul of MapQuest Local, we’re excited about not just getting people where they want to go, but inspiring them to go there.

    Vijay Bangaru, VP Product

  2. Late last year, our MapQuest Labs team launched mqVibe, which positioned the neighborhood as the foundational context for local discovery on a national level.  By converting MapQuest’s 15 years of data including where people are, what they are looking for, and where they are going, we created a baseline for a ranking system, which would get further refined in real-time as users voted and interacted with the system.

    Given the scale of MapQuest, we were able to provide profiles of more than 50,000 neighborhoods, 27,000 cities, and 50,000 hotspots, essentially covering the entire U.S.  Each neighborhood page showcases local restaurants, stores and businesses in ranked order by the most popular, which saves you from having to comb through thousands of not-helpful reviews to find the best.

    Over the weekend, we added a new batch of functionality to mqVibe making it more useful for giving you the local expert opinion of where to go and what to do.

    As you may have seen, mqVibe is at SXSW showcasing all of these great new functionalities.  If you are, too, download the mqVibe iPhone app to find the details on our flash mobs, street-corner giveaways and other cool stuff we’re doing in Austin!

    New Contextual Search
    Today, when you search on most sites, the most you can do is look for a business name (“Rio Grande”) or category like (“Mexican food”).  But sometimes you want to be more specific, like when you’d ask a friend, “Where’s a good place to get margaritas that has a patio?”

    mqVibe now supports this.  So you can search for terms like “rooftop patio,” “kid friendly,” “enchiladas,” “soup dumplings,” and even “live music” to find a place to eat.  We’re just starting to roll this out, so for now we just support using Contextual Search for restaurants in major cities in New York, California, Texas and Colorado.

    Local Influence and Expertise
    Initially VibeRank balanced out the aggregate behavior of the crowd with the discreet engagement of Vibe users.  We now tweak the algorithm so that the more active the user is, the more he influences the system.  After all, the more active you are in a community, the more expertise you have.

    In addition to factoring in community engagement, we also look for the social mavens.  These are the people who, not only know where all the best places are, but are actively sought out for their expertise.  After we  identify them, these folks get the weight of their vote boosted behind the scenes and we also boost the vote weight of anyone who shares his opinions via Facebook, Twitter or FourSquare.

    You can see your influence broken down by neighborhood and category in the leader boards in the “What’s Happening” section of mqVibe.

    “What’s Happening”
    We added a “What’s Happening” tab on the mqVibe website (or in slide-out menu in the mobile app).  This tab gives you a quick glance at what’s happening in neighborhoods you care about, see what your friends are up to, the rise and fall of local businesses, badges you’ve won, and your local influence and rank.

    Until today, there wasn’t much of a reward for exploring, voting and commenting.  With the latest version of mqVibe, you’ll not only get increasing influence – which fosters friendly competition between friends — you now also win badges for your achievements.  These include a Pioneer badge for being one of the first to vote in an area, loyalty badges for frequent visits to local businesses, and VIP badges for having the most social influence in a local business.

    New badges will be coming online all the time, and range from achievement-style awards, such as a specialist badge for being the first to comment on 10 pizza restaurants in a city, to personality-style badges that help to begin to express your personality based on where you go and what you do.

    At times people are scared to vote down a business in Vibe, because traditionally reviews are permanent and have a lasting effect.  mqVibe’s system is different: A vote is simply a point in an ongoing game.  You’ll get to vote again and the influence of your vote diminishes over time.

    So if you have a bad experience somewhere, you should vote them down, knowing that they will have a chance to make it up to you.

    Still, there are times where you’re just not sure how to vote or you don’t have any comment to add.  For those times, we added a new neutral “check in” action.  And if you’re a FourSquare user, you can register your account so that we’ll automatically check you in when you vote or check-in on mqVibe.

    These new features set the stage for the next wave of functionality for mqVibe.  Please try them out and let us know what you think.

  3. At MapQuest, we love maps. We’ve been creating millions of them every day for 15 years, helping people navigate among millions of places across the globe. Maps are tried and true, but at their root, they are really just a canvas for data visualization.

    In the past couple of years, the mapping space has rapidly shifted from just a need for “maps and directions” to a need for “local search.”  Maps are great for roads and terrain, but local search results displayed as pins on a map or just a flat list could be made more useful.

    Finding where to go can be a frustrating experience.  Often you find a bunch of restaurants – all with 3.8 stars that require you read through hundreds of reviews to find a new place to eat.  Or, if you find a “best of” list, it usually compares restaurants at the city level, which isn’t what you want when you’re hungry now and don’t want to drive across town.

    A few months ago, our MapQuest Labs team came upon a new way to tackle this problem by presenting this data in a structure paired with geographic context to help people find what they want faster.  The idea is pretty simple: Why make you do all the work to figure out which 3.8-star restaurant is best, when we can simply tell you the best, the second best, the third best, and so on?

    How can we do this? It’s because we have a lot of data points; billions of data points in fact.  These data points collected over 15 years tell us, among other things, where people are, where they are going, what they are looking for and when they are looking for it.

    Individually these data points are not that helpful, but in aggregate they are extremely useful.  Analyzing this data lets us give you information to quickly and accurately make decisions.

    Today, we’re launching MapQuest Vibe, which is your shortcut to becoming a local, anywhere.  This early beta cuts through the clutter of ratings, lists and pins on a map, by giving you actual rankings of places based on key criteria within a local neighborhood context.

    MapQuest Vibe gives you the local knowledge of not just the best restaurant in Denver, but also the best Italian restaurant in the LoDo neighborhood in Denver.

    The “local knowledge” is generated with a new patented algorithm called VibeRank.  This blended social-algorithmic formula takes several implicit signals (like searches on MapQuest and cartographic data), creates a baseline ranking and then layers on explicit social signals from the new Vibe pages.

    Based on this algorithm, MapQuest Vibe profiles more than 50,000 neighborhoods, 27,000 cities and 50,000 hotspots in the U.S., reaching 98 percent of the population.

    The neighborhood pages let you explore everything a neighborhood has to offer, including restaurants, attractions and services, all ranked in a clear order.  Neighborhoods are scored according to attributes like popularity, walkability, and edginess, and the aggregate quality of the places in that neighborhood.  These rankings and scores are influenced when you vote up places you like and vote down those you don’t.

    You can zoom in further to see the hotspots in a neighborhood.  We define hotspots as the places where people and businesses congregate in that neighborhood and have a high density of highly rated points of interest.

    Or you can zoom out to a city page to get a sense of the neighborhoods that make up a city.  It’s a great way to quickly see where you’d want to spend a day or even get a sense of where you might want to buy a house.

    All of this is available today at and will be available in a few weeks as an iPhone app.

    A common problem for mapping and local search products is that the ground-truth is hard to keep up with.  When you’re dealing with tens of millions of places, it can take a while for new businesses to be added, closed businesses to be removed or to get everything categorized accurately.

    mqVibe approaches this in two ways: First is the traditional way of trying to use the best data providers and allowing businesses to contact us directly to keep their data up to date; the second way is through the social feedback loop inherent in the system.  The more people who vote and comment, the more accurate the underlying data.  And, in the next few months, we’ll have better tools to let users help us fix this on the fly.

    Over time, you’ll see VibeRank applied to more and more things on MapQuest.  Whether it’s applied to highway exits, fuel-efficient routes, national parks or even used as a reputation indicator on user profiles, you can expect to see clear and simple ranks and scores to help you make a decision.

    Additionally, the neighborhood and hotspot pages can turn into a vibrant engagement platform, which brings local news, events, deals and much more into a useful hyper-local context.

    The early beta of MapQuest Vibe, VibeRank, and these new neighborhood, city, and hotspot pages are just a small first step in the next chapter of MapQuest’s journey.  Please try them out and let us know what you think.

    Vijay Bangaru, VP Product