Don’t blame Google maps for Kim’s death

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Obviously, the death of CNet editor James Kim — who had spent days trying to find help for his family, stranded in deep snow in a remote valley in Oregon — is a tragedy. But it shouldn’t be blamed on the use of Google Maps. I’ve seen a few sites where that issue has been raised, including the Lost Remote blog and a Wired blog.

This is apparently based on the fact that the Kims took a forest-service road through the Oregon wilderness — called Bear Camp road — that is not plowed or maintained in the winter, took a wrong turn and got lost. According to a local news report, authorities speculated that the Kims might have used Google Maps, since both Yahoo Maps and MapQuest suggest other routes but Google recommends Bear Camp road.

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On the Lost Remote blog, one commenter even asks whether a mapping service can be found legally responsible for leading people astray. A CNN story, however, notes that even some printed maps don’t specify that the Bear Camp route is not suitable for winter driving. According to the story, the 2005-2007 state highway map has a warning in red print that says “This route closed in winter,” but a Rand-McNally map doesn’t.

State troopers said the family had been using a printed map, but it wasn’t clear which one. This story says someone warned the Kims that the road was not maintained in winter (Shelley has also written about it). The bottom line is that the Kims could easily have found themselves where they were without being lured there by an online map. Whenever a tragedy occurs, the tendency is to want to find someone to blame, but Google is the wrong target.

Update:

More info on the mapping issue can be found here, here and here (thanks to Mike Pegg of Google Maps Mania for those links). And please read the comments here for some other perspectives and clarification. And according to this story, while the surviving members of the family were rescued by a helicopter hired by the family, they were first spotted by a recreational helicopter pilot who knows the area well.

Update 2:

James Kim’s father Spencer Kim has written an op-ed piece for the Washington Post about his son’s death and the problems that led up to it — from road warning signs being removed and gates left unlocked to media helicopters disrupting the search.

Comments (18)

  1. Dominic Jones wrote::

    Not that I see why this matters, but for the sake of accuracy, this is from the Oregon State Police “flash” website in regards to what map they were using:

    “Clarification: Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce – information provided earlier of a tip that a person at the chamber of commerce building provided a map and recommended travel routes has been determined to not be credible. Interviews with Kati Kim revealed they chose this route after looking at a State of Oregon map.”

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 5:15 am #
  2. Mathew Ingram wrote::

    Thanks for that, Dominic.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 8:11 am #
  3. John Furrier wrote::

    i wonder if the gps software in cars have the same issue. Clearly an issue on online maps to have all the local information. I wonder if James had a verizon or sprint wireless pc card. I have my notebook with my verizon card all the time.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 8:19 am #
  4. Josh wrote::

    Who the hell would jump to the conclusion that because a tool was used to help make a decision that somehow the tool is to blame for the outcome of the decision? It’s not the maps fault. Why not blame the auto manufacturer for not providing survival kits and a few weeks’ rations with every SUV? They do suggest in their advertising that we can decide to use their products to access remote areas if we want. The real question is: why didn’t the Oregonian agency responsible for the road warn the public that the road was possibly dangerous? If it was in fact a private logging road, then why didn’t the owners close access to the road? Somebody out there is legally responsible for the maintenance of the road and this group is also the one responsible to the people that use the road. Either fair warning or proper maintenance could have saved that man’s life. The cause of the death was the man’s lack of awareness of the situation he was about to put himself in at the time that he entered the roadway; not hours or days beforehand when he was planning his trip.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 11:47 am #
  5. John Furrier wrote::

    Josh: i agree with you … there is no way Google is to blame.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 11:51 am #
  6. Mathew Ingram wrote::

    Good points, Josh — although as far as I’ve been able to gather, the road is marked in several places with signs that say it is hazardous in winter.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 11:55 am #
  7. Josh wrote::

    Then the net question is: was the warning adequate? Obviously this, by all accounts, intelligent man didn’t think he was putting is family at risk when he enter the roadway.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:01 pm #
  8. Mathew Ingram wrote::

    It’s not clear to me from the way some of the stories have been written (and my limited understanding of the area) whether he would have seen the signs or not, or how many of them — and he also reportedly took a wrong turn at some point along the way, which complicates things. In the end, he took a risk and perhaps made some bad decisions, and likely had some bad luck as well, and it ended tragically. There isn’t always someone to blame in such cases. Sometimes, bad things just happen.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:04 pm #
  9. Josh wrote::

    Matt, I agree whole heartedly. We live on a contentious continent don’t we?

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:09 pm #
  10. Dominic Jones wrote::

    It would do the mainstream media to take a long hard look at their coverage of this story. As your post demonstrates, there was a lot of inaccurate reporting. There still is. AP is shockingly bad. SF Chronicle was good among the mainstream media. TV just sucked.

    Some of the best coverage came from local journalists. This piece by a local reporter in the area is the only one to provide some insight into why James Kim went down that impossible Big Windy Creek drainage.

    “Jones [local helicopter SAR pilot] said Kim apparently walked along the road for four or five miles. Then, his tracks crossed paths with a big black bear headed downhill across the road. Jones speculated that Kim headed down the steep ravine to avoid the animal, which appears to have followed him.”

    A tip for the media, don’t sit on you ass waiting for the next news conference. Get out into town and talk to people and then ask for clarification at the official news conferences.

    I also found that some of the local bloggers were the best sources for where to go for credible coverage. Joe Duck in particular did some good pulling together of resources.

    The biggest risk to mainstream media is itself.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:11 pm #
  11. Mathew Ingram wrote::

    An excellent point, Dominic. I found blogs and local media the best as well — which probably isn’t that surprising, since they know the area.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:31 pm #
  12. Dominic Jones wrote::

    In regards to AP, I should clarify that the problem seems to be a copy editing one. Someone seems to have been adding copy from the initial stories to the new information that came in from the reporter in the field. Some of the old information was inaccurate and was not updated.

    I’m giving the reporter the benefit of the doubt because he worked damned hard and filed a lot of copy under pressure. His best piece was when he drove the route the Kim’s took and reported how many warning signs they might have seen. Of course, the weather conditions were different when he did it and they did. Still, it was a good example of getting off your butt and doing some sleuthing.

    It’s easy being an armchair critic, so I don’t want to be too judgmental of individual reporters.

    Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 1:59 pm #
  13. John wrote::

    My comments are in no way intended to disrepsect the famiies involved as this is a tragedy. I do however find the reporting and many comments quite unfair to various mapping companies. To even hint that maps are even remotely involved in causing this tragedy is absolutely insan and is a sign of desparate, irresponsible reporting. I also think it shows tremendous disrespect for Mr. Kim.

    Friday, December 8, 2006 at 7:59 am #
  14. Alan wrote::

    This is a tragedy but I see online maps as a travel aid and I use them the same way as James certainly did. Knowing that these maps are covering huge territory and represent massive amounts of data I would not trust my life based on what Google Maps show. I agree with many others when I say that Google is not to blame here.

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 4:06 am #
  15. Mike wrote::

    My heart goes out to the Kim family.
    I live in Oregon and I like nothing better than a good backroad to experience nature. When I first heard this story I was wondering if a gps unit had led them astray. Now it’s a paper map. I use the Oregon Atlas and Gazetteer, it has elevation and lists most if not all BLM roads, this is a must for backcountry roads, most gas station maps ignore BLM roads and logging trails. That being said roads in Oregon that are not maintained during winter are clearly marked with signs, however once you are past it signage may be spotty at best. I can only say please pay attention to signs and heed warnings about mountain roads and passes, Oregon is beautiful but heavily wooded in many areas with heavy snowfall in the upper elevations, if you travel any passes in Oregon, even highways, pack blankets food and water for the unexpected. I just checked my Gaz, and it doesn’t note the road as closed, but it does show the location of the Bear creek campsite, just a few miles from where they were stranded.

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 2:23 pm #
  16. Mike wrote::

    My bad, I dbl checked and the Black Bar isn’t listed however, there is a Campsite and an airstrip very very close to the cars location. With a paper map of any kind on those logging roads it is extremely confusing if you don’t know where you are at a given moment you would be very lost, lattitude and longitude would be needed to pinpoint ones location to make any map usefull.

    Monday, December 11, 2006 at 2:45 pm #
  17. HelenJHowell wrote::

    To the people of these two groups: those with Best snow blower, no wonder they do not fall into Para. Here are some tips to enjoy the white stuff again.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 3:18 pm #
  18. HelenJHowell wrote::

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    Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 8:18 pm #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks (16)

  1. Canadian Blogs on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    Don’t blame Google maps for Kim’s death via Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work December 7th, 2006 at 02:27

  2. ::Technology:: on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 7:30 am

    for most vehicles and is CLOSED for all traffic during the winter. The road is not maintained, has no dividing line for oncoming traffic, is littered with potholes, and is impenetrable during the winter due to snow.” [IMG kim-route] Mathew Ingram suggests we don’t blame Google, but I think that’s exactly what we should do. The Google Maps terms of service say that Google Maps is intended for planning trips: Map information provided through Google is intended for planning purposes only. You may find

  3. Meta-Google on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 4:45 am

    http://www.mathewingram.com/...

  4. 0Key on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 3:27 am

    Obviously, the death of CNet editor James Kim — who had spent days trying to find help for his family, stranded in deep snow in a remote valley in… Posted in google, maps, death, technorati, tag, for, s, t, results, , Kim, Kim, Kim, Don, blame | No Comments »

  5. Found in Translation on Friday, December 8, 2006 at 10:37 pm

    was the unfortunate death of James Kim, a senior editor at CNET, after he and his family got stranded in the middle of nowhere on a snowy road. Partially because they followed the directions that they got from the Google Maps site (See Mathew Ingram’s post). The first stories that caught my eyes were of a town called Luckington in the UK. Due to a road closure people were searching out alternate routes via their GPS system, one of which took them right through a road which was more often than not

  6. Clicked on Monday, December 11, 2006 at 3:11 am

    The most popular 10,000 websites analyzed – 8 Questions & Answers – Includes many surprises. Top 50 Music Videos Of 2006 One more for the Christmas list. White Christmas doo-wop animation. No tricks or jokes or obnoxiousness. Don’t blame Google Maps for Kim’s death – Doesn’t include mention of the vandal. “The James Kim thing has me thinking – what would I want in my car if that happened to me?” How I Knew James Kim – Points out that the depth of the online material surrounding the lives of the Kim family

  7. EscapeMojo.com on Saturday, December 9, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    .  Worse off, rumors online are suggesting that Kim himself – a savvy Web user – might have relied a bit too much on maps provided by Google, which while helpful, are not always 100% reliable. For more on the Google storyline, click here, here, here and here and here.

  8. EscapeMojo.com on Tuesday, December 12, 2006 at 9:16 pm

    .  Worse off, rumors online are suggesting that Kim himself – a savvy Web user – might have relied a bit too much on maps provided by Google, which while helpful, are not always 100% reliable. For more on the Google storyline, click here, here, here and here and here.

  9. sgenius' blog on Monday, December 18, 2006 at 8:23 am

    especularon que servicios como Google Maps podrían ser culpables por su desorientación, al (probablemente) recomendarle tomar un camino vecinal al que no se le da servicio durante el invierno. Este otro geek dice, sin embargo, que igual y un mapa impreso pudo haberles malinformado. Yo opino que, en todo caso, es sentido común no tomar un camino vecinal en invierno, en las montañas, en un terreno que no se conoce, sobre todo si ya te dijeron que no lo usaras. Pero también es cierto que, si, como buen geek, se dejó llevar

  10. Google Maps Mania: Google Map of Best LA Wine Shops on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    which shows the distance James covered to try to find help. It’s staggering how far he walked! Here is a summary of some of these items: James Kim’s Path Ikonos satellite used to help in search Key points in search for missing family Don’’t blame Google maps for Kim’’s death MAPS: Internet travel directions need to be checked carefully Tragedy spurs need to upgrade road maps My personal thoughts and sympathy go out to the team at CNET and to the Kim and Fleming families..

  11. Google Maps Killed James Kim by Elliott Back on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 12:58 am

    […] Mathew Ingram suggests we don’t blame Google, but I think that’s exactly what we should do. The Google Maps terms of service say that Google Maps is intended for planning trips: Map information provided through Google is intended for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic conditions or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. […]

  12. Google Maps Mania: Mapping chatter surrounding James Kim tragedy on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 10:28 am

    […] CNET: In memoriam: James Kim, CNET senior editor, 1971 – 2006There has been a lot of talk about Google Maps, and maps in general, throughout this tragic event. One blogger put out an open call to Google to make updated satellite imagery of the area available (much like Bret Taylor and the Google Maps team made a reality during the Katrina flooding in New Orleans). Accuracy of route plotting features present in online mapping services such as Google Maps have also been discussed. One satellite company even offered its services to help in the search. Here is a summary of some of these items:Ikonos satellite used to help in searchKey points in search for missing familyDon’Â’t blame Google maps for Kim’Â’s deathMAPS: Internet travel directions need to be checked carefullyTragedy spurs need to upgrade road mapsMy personal thoughts and sympathy go out to the team at CNET and to the Kim and Fleming families.. […]

  13. The Map Room: Update: The Kims Used a Paper Map on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 11:11 am

    […] As I noted in an update to my earlier post, the body of James Kim was found yesterday. But online maps or GPS navigation systems cannot be blamed for the Kim tragedy, as some have surmised (based on little more than James Kim’s techy occupation): the San Francisco Chronicle reports that they used a paper map. Indeed Bear Camp Road’s winter status is not always mentioned on paper maps: Mathew Ingram; Medford Mail Tribune. No mapping method has a monopoly on accuracy or error. Via Google Maps Mania. […]

  14. Mad Techie Woman » Even Babies can Understand REST on Thursday, December 7, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    […] Recent Comments: Phil on Maps and Experience Advanced Technology Products Interactive » Blog Archive » James Kim found deceased on Maps and Experience Don’t blame Google maps for Kim’s death » Mathew Ingram: mathewingram.com/work on Maps and Experience Fatvine » Your Cell Phone Could Save Your Life on Maps and Experience Kevin Marks on Maps and Experience Audrey on Maps and Experience SB on MTW Image Webomatica on Maps and Experience Shelley on MTW Image Dan Lyke on MTW Image […]

  15. Accusations flying in James Kim’s death -- Brandon Wood on Friday, December 8, 2006 at 8:27 pm

    […] Further, Mathew Ingram reports that the Kim family had been using a printed map, and that someone had warned them that Bear Camp Road was not maintained in the winter. He also makes a good point about peoples’ tendency to always look for someone to blame: The bottom line is that the Kims could easily have found themselves where they were without being lured there by an online map. Whenever a tragedy occurs, the tendency is to want to find someone to blame, but Google is the wrong target. […]

  16. Tailrank - Top News for Wednesday December 6, 2006 on Wednesday, December 20, 2006 at 2:55 pm

    […] Lost dad found dead in wilderness Found 13 days ago on cnn.com Hoping to save his stranded wife and children, James Kim decided Saturday to venture into the cold and unforgiving Oregon wilderness wearing only street clothes. 36 blogs link to this thread track this thread Tagged: Technorati named 2007 Technology Pioneer by the World Economic Forum, Profiled in Time Magazine sifry.com Found 14 days ago Today was a pretty busy day! Technorati was selected by the World Economic Forum (yeah, the one that meets in Davos, Switzerland every year!) as a Technology Pioneer. I was blown away by this, as it is a pretty high honor – only 47 companies worldwide were selected, and it means that I’ll be heading … # Update: CNet’s James Kim Found Deceased gizmodo.com Found 13 days ago It’s a sad day: James Kim was just found in the woods, deceased. We’d hoped things would have turned out for the better, but all we can do now is be thankful his daughters and wife are safe. More info at CNet. … # Don’t blame Google maps for Kim’s death mathewingram.com Found 13 days ago Obviously, the death of CNet editor James Kim — who had spent days trying to find help for his family, stranded in deep snow in a remote valley in Oregon — is a tragedy. But it shouldn’t be blamed on the use of Google Maps. … # A Nasty Jolt for the Top Pops time.com Found 14 days ago N.W.A.’s grotesque new rap album soars to No. 1, raising questions about why ghetto rage and the brutal abuse of women appeal to mainstream listeners #   see all 36 blog links to this story » […]