Cartography for the masses

by Paul Jay, CBCNews.ca

On Tuesday, Google unveiled Map Maker, a tool to allow users to contribute and edit map data for regions around the world. The tool will allow users to add, edit and moderate features like roads, lakes, parks, points of interest, businesses, cities and localities.

Google is opening the tool first to 18 countries, mostly in Latin America, but also including Cyprus, Iceland, Pakistan, and Vietnam, areas where there is a paucity of good information on roads and geographical features.

"The existing mapping data for these countries could benefit tremendously from local knowledge and expertise that you and other map makers posses, and we're excited to see how you put that to use," wrote software engineer Lalitesh Katragadda and project manager Sanjay Jain in Google's Lat Long blog.

As with any crowdsourcing venture, Google is opening itself to potential abuse, and it's also not clear who would most benefit from the information - since local residents aren't likely going to Google for directions to their own regions. Maybe businesses will start plotting their store locations on maps, paving the way for location-based advertising, where ads spring up to consumers based on the physical location of their mobile handset.

But to some extent it's a logical extension of online mash-ups using Google maps that are already on the web. (Like this one, which tells me that, were I to use an Acme Portable Hole to travel through the centre of the Earth, I would, like other residents of Toronto, end up far off the southwest coast of Perth, Australia.)

Any guess what the first Map Maker addition to a country like Iceland will be? Probably something like this.