I know it’s a bit old, but I just got around to reading Mashable’s very insightful article on how Google actually gets its mapping technology right. It’s not an after-thought at all to the search giant — Maps is vital to their business and getting it accurate and reliable in their users’ eyes is top priority. That’s why Google, with its fleet of Street View cars, drivers, technicians, and programmers aim to fix any reported error within minutes.

Some details are worth pointing out. In the top center quadrant, trails have been mapped out and coded as places for walking. All the parking lots have been mapped out. All the little roads, say, to the left of the small dirt patch on the right, have also been coded. Several of the actual buildings have been outlined. Down at the bottom left, a road has been marked as a no-go. At each and every intersection, there are arrows that delineate precisely where cars can and cannot turn.

Now imagine doing this for every tile on Google’s map in the United States and 29 other countries over the last four years. Every roundabout perfectly circular, every intersection with the correct logic. Every new development. Every one-way street. This is a task of nearly unimaginable scale. This is not something you can put together with a few dozen smart engineers.

I came away convinced that the geographic data Google has assembled is not likely to be matched by any other company. The secret to this success isn’t, as you might expect, Google’s facility with data, but rather its willingness to commit humans to combining and cleaning data about the physical world. Google’s map offerings build in the human intelligence on the front end, and that’s what allows its computers to tell you the best route from San Francisco to Boston.

In the end, Mashable argues that Maps is actually the product that will keep Google relevant into the future, and after reading this article, I tend to agree. There’s just no other company right now that can even get near what Google has done.