Table of contents
GPS devices are a critical part of operations in almost every industry. Unfortunately, device location data is not easily interpreted by humans. Interpreting and processing the GPS data generated by delivery trucks, public transit fleets, and mobile phone users requires a robust understanding of how GPS coordinates translate to real-world locations.
Geocoding and its reverse geocoding capabilities unlock the potential of businesses using location services by enhancing legibility, flexibility and accessibility of GPS data.
Reverse geocoding is a process that involves taking geographical coordinates (such as latitude and longitude) and converting them into a human-readable physical address or place name. This is the opposite of "forward geocoding," which involves converting a physical address or place name into geographical coordinates. Reverse geocoding is a commonly used mapping technology that allows users to search for specific locations using their geographical coordinates.
Without realizing it, users leverage reverse geocoding every time they search for nearby gas stations, restaurants, or hiking trails. Reverse geocoding is important because it allows users and businesses alike to search for the most relevant points of interest around a specific location. Given a pair of coordinates, one can determine the name of the associated city, postal code, grocery store.
The process of reverse geocoding is essential for giving meaning to the, otherwise cryptic, latitude/longitude coordinate system. For most people reading this, the coordinates 37.8194388, -122.4793183 are effectively meaningless. Without needing a map to visualize the location, reverse geocoding quickly informs us that these coordinates are closest to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.
Reverse geocoding and geocoding (also known as “forward” geocoding) are two sides of the same coin. “Forward” geocoding is the process of assigning addresses, zones, or other named locations to specific geocodes, otherwise known as coordinates. Reverse geocoding is the same process in reverse: taking coordinates and converting them into relevant place names, such as 30 Rockefeller Plaza or the Kennedy Space Center.
Mapbox combines address data from over 2,500 sources in order to generate the most comprehensive set of point addresses (over 375 million) with respective geocodes. This dataset is the starting point for reverse geocoding. When a user drops a pin on a map, Mapbox generates its relevant place names based on geocode data.
As Mapbox continues to integrate new data sources, reverse geocoding becomes more accurate. For example, Mapbox uses multiple levels of geocoding granularity for one set of coordinates. “Rooftop geocodes” are one layer of geocodes that translate building coordinates to approximate street addresses, while “administrative area geocodes” translate to the names of residential zones. “Parcel centroid” and “thoroughfare” are two geocode levels commonly used to identify large buildings or roadways. A mix of layers helps users find the name they’re looking for when looking up a particular set of coordinates on a map.
Mapbox also ensures accuracy by using data verification and correction pipelines. One of these pipelines, telemetry, depends on tens of thousands of monthly user feedback submissions to keep maps up-to-date. Mapbox services like Geocoding are reliable tools with comprehensive datasets to back them up.
Wherever a GPS device generates its coordinate location, reverse geocoding can help businesses extract useful information. From fleet tracking and delivery services, to tourism and content tagging, reverse geocoding services help develop insights and generate user-friendly location information.
For example, organizations that manage fleets of vehicles need a system that can keep track of where each unit is at any given time. These insights are challenging for people to track and make sense of manually, but with reverse geocoding, thousands of shifting locations across the globe can be analyzed in a few clicks. Postal delivery and public transportation workers benefit from this use case, and so do their customers. Reverse geocoding is one way to keep customers in the loop as their packages and buses approach their destinations.
Reverse geocode queries can be tailored to any relevant business process. In fact, Mapbox uses reverse geocoding for its own address verification services. Address verification helps companies reduce shipping costs, improve customer service, and gain certainty in all shipping and location-based operations.
Data accuracy is of utmost importance for all mapping services, so Mapbox sharpens all their tools to create an error-free digital representation of the world. Reverse geocoding is an additional layer of validation to ensure Mapbox digital maps and the physical worlds perfectly align.
To experiment with geocoding, get started with Mapbox’s Geocoding API for free today.
Reverse geocoding is a process that involves taking geographical coordinates (such as latitude and longitude) and converting them into a human-readable physical address or place name.
Geocoding is the process of assigning addresses, zones, or other named locations to specific geocodes, otherwise known as coordinates. Reverse geocoding is the same process in reverse: taking coordinates and converting them into relevant place names.