Naureen Aqueel

Google maps: Marking territory

Posted on: July 7, 2009

An edited version of this article was published in CIO Pakistan

Pakistan recently made the headlines when Google recently made it known to the public that Pakistan had topped its Google Map’s experiment evident in the speed with which it had populated itself on Google’s Map Maker. Among the 160 countries simultaneously availing the global search leader’s experiment that started in June 2008, Pakistanis were able to post the greatest amount of localized information about their country.

Google maps is a Google service that was launched on 23rd June, 2008 aiming to provide powerful, user-friendly mapping technology and local business information for various countries. Speaking to CIO Pakistan, Creator of Google Map Maker, Lalit Katragadda outlines the basic idea behind Google Map Maker: “The greatest need for people coming online was for local information, and the biggest shortfall that Google or any other online information systems had was the lack of local data that obviously requires great map data. The idea behind Map Maker was to meet this need. We thought that if people know where they live and we provide them with the right tools, they could make maps out of it.”

Katragadda shares that Google Map Maker launched with some countries that were completely blank and had no information about them. Pakistan was one of them, yet it made the most “astonishing progress among all other countries”. He says that they were pleasantly surprised to see that within a month that Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad were mapped to the extent that you could recognize the cities, see the major neghbourhoods and major points of interest and so on.

“People are now putting in much richer quality of data so that you can now get directions to places in Pakistan and to various points of interest and also search for businesses etc,” says Katragadda. The quantity and quality of mapping information provided by Pakistani users enabled Google to post Pakistan on the Google maps early this week. Users have not only mapped the major cities but also the smaller cities in Pakistan.

When this experiment waslaunched however, Google did very little publicity. The launch of Google Map Maker was posted only on one blog post, the rest of the spread of the news among Pakistani web users was made through the viral buzz. “In three to four days, there were posts about this on Pakistani blogs and then the community took over,” recounts Katragadda.

Behind Map Maker is the idea that the community would take ownership not only for mapping out its country on the service, but also for moderating the other information that was being made available through the service. “The responsibility part is almost natural because you have sense of ownership of the city you are in.

“Google’s mission is to organize all the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, explains Katragadda. “It aims to make the information useful not just for the big businesses but also for the small businesses, not just for people who are internet savvy but for everyone. One of the goals of Map Maker is to actually democratize this information. For example, one of our engineers noticed that there is this pan shop in Karachi that one of the Pakistani users had added. The person whose shop has been added does not know about the internet or what Google is, but they have benefited from it because users can now discover them through Google and on the web.”

Google has released API’s (Application Programming Interface) which allow users to develop new content on the maps and to develop intelligent applications to benefit the community at large. “People have made amazing applications from it, everything from water sources–NGOs have mapped water sources where there is water scarcity—to mapping out which area has how many schools and how many teachers etc.”

Having put up the maps, Katragadda voices his anticipation to see what kind of interesting applications local developers can now come up with to take it to the next level.

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