KeyMap -- Less Than Zero

Reviewed by Richard Busch

Lithosphere (June 1995); Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.; Fallbrook, CA

Ordinarily, I would simply throw a product like KeyMap in the trash and be done with it. Unfortunately, I would be performing a disservice by not warning others about this exceptionally bad computer program. In fact, calling KeyMap "bad" denigrates those products which truly deserve that honor. KeyMap transcends "bad." KeyMap is, in reality, a dangerous product -- one whose use could jeopardize your safety and possibly even endanger your life. It is for that reason, despite my general editorial policy of only publishing "favorable" reviews, that we review KeyMap now.

KeyMap, a program written by SoftKey International for IBM PC-compatible computers, purports to be an intelligent road atlas of the United States. Conceptually, KeyMap could be a very useful product for planning collecting trips to the field. Properly executed, an intelligent road atlas would be an invaluable tool to aid collectors getting into collecting sites. However, in my opinion, about all KeyMap is good for is getting collectors into trouble. How bad is KeyMap really? I could find no redeeming value either in the product or in the company which fails to stand behind it.

KeyMap actually comes in pieces. There is KeyMap itself, which contains an overall map of the United States, and there are a hundred or so separately sold CityMaps, each of which contains a detailed atlas for a selected geographic area within the U.S. To use a CityMap requires the purchase and installation of KeyMap on your computer. For the purposes of this review, KeyMap and the CityMap for San Diego and Imperial Counties, California, were evaluated. My testing was not especially demanding: I asked KeyMap to find the street on which I live; I asked KeyMap to display a map of eastern Imperial County; and I asked KeyMap to generate a set of optimal driving instructions from Fallbrook to Palo Verde, Imperial County, California.

In one way or another KeyMap failed at all of these tasks. Below is a partial list and description of KeyMap's numerous deficiencies.

KeyMap is incomplete -- The first thing I did after installing KeyMap and the San Diego/Imperial County CityMap was to ask the program to locate and display the street upon which I live -- Weatherwood Terrace. This should have been a trivial task; however, despite the claims printed on the front of the CityMap box, "Never Lost, Always Found. On Any Street in America!," KeyMap could not locate my street. Even when I zoomed the displayed map to the local area where I live, KeyMap still could not find it. Never lost, always found? With KeyMap failing to perform the first query posed to it, I could only imagine the other omissions in its database. In my subsequent experimentation, KeyMap failed to find between 5 and 10 percent of the streets I asked it to locate. Additionally, there appears to be no CityMap which covers eastern Riverside County. "On Any Street in America?" Hardly.

KeyMap is inaccurate -- Following the program's failure to find the street upon which I live, I asked KeyMap to locate the nearest cross street -- Scripps Trail. The program found it, but told me that the street was "undrivable." I regarded this as interesting information since I have driven on Scripps Trail nearly every day for the past four years. As bad as this inaccuracy seems, it pales in comparison against some of the other geographic errors and omissions in KeyMap. For example, I asked KeyMap to draw the area around the town of Palo Verde, located in northeastern Imperial County. The map below, and to the left, shows what the program produced (the map to the right shows a more realistic representation of the area). But, hold on . . . It gets worse.



KeyMap generates bad driving directions -- The front of the KeyMap box states, "Find any location in the United States, choose your route, print a detailed map, and never get lost again." I can virtually guarantee that if you rely on KeyMap to give you directions, you are almost certain to get lost -- and possibly stranded -- if you don't get arrested first.

Given a starting location and a destination point on its map, KeyMap generates a set of driving instructions to get you there via the "shortest" route. To be sure, finding the shortest path in a network of connections is a difficult problem to solve in the general case. (Part of the difficulty arises from the fact that you may have to drive away from your destination at times in order to follow the shortest route.) True to its overall nature, KeyMap solves this problem -- badly.

The method that KeyMap uses in its attempt to find the shortest route between two locations is one of simply poking and probing along a set of possible routes and choosing the shortest one it finds. This, of course, takes time; so the program permits you to specify the amount of probing you are willing to endure by means of a parameter termed "IQ." The implication is that "IQ" controls some sort of intelligence within KeyMap. As one who is familiar with the program, I can assure you that intelligence and the "IQ" parameter have nothing to do with each other.

To illustrate this, I asked KeyMap to determine the shortest driving route between our Mineral Museum in Fallbrook and the aforementioned town of Palo Verde. With "IQ" set to its default value, KeyMap generated a route which measured 203.4 miles. Changing "IQ" to its maximum value, I asked the program to find the shortest route again. After computing its little heart out for what seemed like an eternity, KeyMap proudly displayed an "improved" route which measured 208.0 miles -- nearly five miles longer than the "dumber" route. So much for intelligence. It gets worse . . .

KeyMap creates phantom intersections -- When I examined the actual driving directions provided by KeyMap for the route between Fallbrook and Palo Verde, I found some truly amazing stuff. Among the 85(!) separate turning directions was this: "Go southeast on I-15; turn east onto Stewart Canyon Road." KeyMap has to earn some points for creativity here. I-15 passes over Stewart Canyon Road. There is no intersection. So take a tow truck and some bail money along with your set of KeyMap directions.

KeyMap ignores topography and road condition -- Instead of plotting a reasonably direct track of State and Interstate highways in its route from Fallbrook to Palo Verde, KeyMap instructs the hapless driver to take a road to the top of Palomar Mountain, go down the other side, and then navigate a maze of unpaved, and in some cases unnamed, desert roads to reach the destination. Other examples exist; PC Magazine once printed a list of KeyMap directions which included instructions to drive on a sidewalk! Amazing, but believe it or not, it gets worse.

KeyMap provides dangerous driving directions -- Here's where it gets serious. Partway through the set of directions from Fallbrook to Palo Verde, KeyMap instructs the driver to follow an unnamed road for a distance of 21.23 miles. Comparing KeyMap's directions to a printed map of the area reveals that, for this particular leg of the journey, KeyMap has routed the driver diagonally through the center of the Chocolate Mountain Impact Area -- an aerial bombing range in active use by the U.S. military. No joke.

Admittedly, KeyMap's printed directions include the admonishment, "KeyMap's suggested directions may not be applicable for all routing requirements." I would suggest a rewording: "KeyMap's suggested directions are worthless at best and dangerous at worst."

KeyMap's manufacturer fails to stand behind their product -- I telephoned SoftKey International to report the deficiencies outlined above (and others) and was abruptly told that KeyMap was not warranteed to be correct! Further, SoftKey had no plans to fix any of the problems I encountered. When I asked to return KeyMap for a refund, I was informed that SoftKey does not refund purchases -- even when the product fails to perform to the claims printed on the front of the box.

So there you have it: KeyMap -- Clearly deficient in every way. My recommendation: Join the AAA; their maps are detailed and accurate. KeyMap's rightful place is with the rest of the garbage.

Copyright © 1995 by Fallbrook Gem and Mineral Society, Inc.

The preceding article was originally published in the June 1995 issue of Lithosphere, the official bulletin of the Fallbrook [California] Gem and Mineral Society, Inc; Richard Busch (Editor).

Permission to reproduce and distribute this material, in whole or in part, for non-commercial purposes, is hereby granted provided the sense or meaning of the material is not changed and the author's notice of copyright is retained.

Last updated: 18 September 2002