The Foursquare Map Problem in China – A plea for a solution!

Long term users of Foursquare in China will be all too familiar with the mapping problem in the mobile app – the location pins for all venues are displaying in the wrong place on the map. This is obviously an annoying problem and makes navigating to a venue for the first time particularly difficult. As a long term user and fan of the service, I have waited patiently for Foursquare to come out with a fix the but after several years and many updates the problem still remains. I am writing this post to publicise the problem, with the hope of providing enough information that they can set about fixing it.

The basic problem is this: In China, the government offsets the reported GPS map location, which results in distorted values and incorrectly pin-pointed locations. The GPS location on satellite images is always correct, the problem is on the street maps where the position of the map with the GPS position has been “shifted” resulting in the location pin being in the wrong place on the map. We could wax lyrical about why they do this but it wouldn’t help the issue – the fact is they do. Recently as the various mobile mapping apps (iOS Maps, Google Maps etc.) have improved, they have developed a work around. Foursquare still has not.

The problem currently affects all of mainland China. I for one find Foursquare most useful when travelling somewhere new, especially new countries, and if I was a new user arriving in China I would find this problem incredibly inconvenient. It’s already inconvenient for those of us that live here! As Foursquare repositions itself as a local search provider, fixing this problem becomes ever more urgent.

To illustrate the problem I will be looking at the iPhone. I don’t own an Android or Blackberry phone. If you do, please let me know in the comments if Fourquare on these devices suffers from the same mapping problem.

The Mapping Problem Explained on iOS

First, for comparison, here is iOS6 Maps which shows my current location on the street map.

Note that this is displaying the CORRECT location of my current location (blue dot) on both the street and sat view. This is my correct location.

Next up the new Google Maps App for iOS. This is also now correct although the Google maps used in IOS5 Maps were previously incorrect. The blue dot is showing my correct location on both the sat view and street view.

Now let’s now take a look at how things show up in the Foursquare iOS app. Here’s the “Check In” screen:

(Note: In these examples, I am checked in at my current location. The venue name on Foursquare is “Huluville”.)

Note:

1. My current location (“Huluville”) which should be centred in the map view is appearing off the top-right of the current map view. The map is also not centred at my location.

2. The pins on the map are displaying in the wrong locations on the map. (Actually – It may be more accurate to say that the map is incorrectly positioned under the pins.

My next screenshot shows the map view from the ‘Explore’ tab:

Note:

1. My current location (blue dot) is displaying in the correct place on the map. However my headshot icon is displaying south and a lot west of my true location. The blue dot and my headshot should both be displayed together where the blue dot currently is.

2. The offset you see below with my headshot is the same offset seen for all venue pins on the map. They are all appearing south and west of their actual (true) locations.

3. Because the map is displaying all pins in the incorrect location, it makes finding venues in the physical world very difficult!

Now lets take a look at the the Foursquare website. The website maps are working perfectly with all pins displaying in the correct location. The only reason I include this is just to illustrate how strange it is that the website mapping is perfect while the iOS has problems.

Foursquare’s Response to the problem

I recently sent all this information to Foursquare to let them know the extent of the problem. A few days later on January 22nd they responded stating the following:

“Our engineers are aware of the issue but at this time there is nothing that can be done. We’re awfully sorry for the inconvenience! We are constantly working on how to better our maps and connectivity globally. This is definitely something we are keeping in mind and will take it into account as we grow :-)”

Conclusion

The long and short of it is that, fixing the problem is not something they are currently prioritising. Being a US company, China is a long way away, and obviously low on their priority list. However, if Foursquare truly wants to be useful as a local search tool globally, they need to address the problem. Foursquare is at its most useful when travelling somewhere new, and currently it is obviously broken for anyone who lives in or is visiting China.

If you want to see a solution, I suggest you make some noise by sending a Foursquare a support request here.

  • Beterhans

    thanks for the effort but It’s not possible to fixed it technically, You have to deal with the Chinese GOV.

    The process mostly like this

    1.Map making company make a correct map but they can’t sell it (It’s illegal to sell correct chinese map)
    2.Map making company submit the correct map to GOV
    3.GOV set a random offset (aka. shift it) and record all offsets.
    4. APP making company want to make a map based app.
    5. They buy shifted map from GOV/or the map making company (Like Google)
    6. the app company also need to BUY THE OFFSET records from GOV.
    7. combine the shifted map and offsets and you got visually correct location. (GPS date is not correct)

    this will also create a problem. like
    I made a camera app which can record gps data into photos. but which gps data I should store in the photo?
    real gps data or shifted data?
    real data sees incorrect on a shifted map
    shifted data is incorrect on a correct map.

  • http://www.saltedlolly.com Olly S

    How does this explain how iOS6 Maps displays correctly in the native app, but not in the Foursquare app? What about OpenStreetMap – those maps are displaying correctly?

  • http://www.saltedlolly.com Olly S

    How does this explain how iOS6 Maps displays correctly in the native app, but not in the Foursquare app? What about OpenStreetMap – those maps are displaying correctly on the Foursquare website? How come they are not affected?

  • Utterly

    Another example (the one Beterhans is describing) of where I’d like to just go to Zhongnanhai and give the blokes a hug… just like after I read http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/746880.shtml (yes, I know it’s one of many) . Can anyone please give the government some hugs? They seem so utterly insecure.

  • http://www.saltedlolly.com/ Olly S

    I have just noticed that running Foursquare on an iPad (Non-3G Model) is actually working fine in China. I imagine that this is cause by there being no GPS chip in the iPad to mess with the results. This doesn’t solve the problem for iPhone users but is worth noting.

  • http://www.saltedlolly.com/ Olly S

    Question: How would a company like Foursquare go about buying the offset records from the Chinese government? Who do they contact? Is there a website?