Google Map Maker Takes on OpenStreetMap?

8:07 pm PHT

Late last month, Google announced and released Map Maker, a service that lets users add streets and other underlying data that will eventually make its way to the actual map tiles that you see in Google Maps. To put it—maybe too—simply, it’s like Wikipedia for Google Maps. But this is not like Google’s My Maps service, which lets you create custom maps by adding a layer of data on top of the underlying Google maps imagery. Map Maker lets you update that underlying imagery itself. Interestingly, you can trace over the satellite imagery and this is a boon for budding mapmakers since Google has the best worldwide satellite imagery coverage among all the online mapping services.

This offering is an answer to questions like the one Yuga asked before: “Google, where’s our street maps?”, and to the problem of incorrect street data (now that Philippines has street maps in Google) like what Luis mentioned in a comment on Technograph. (For reference, you can read my analysis of Google’s street data for the Philippines.) Unfortunately, Map Maker is not available for the whole world; it’s only enabled for selected countries where the existing road data is very inadequate, such as Iceland, Cyprus, Pakistan, and several Caribbean states. No Philippines, if you’re asking.

Update: Map Maker has been opened for the Philippines.

The technology for Map Maker was based off on the India crowd-sourcing project that Google did last year. In that project, Google basically handed out a lot of GPS units to Indians and had them create the maps for Indian cities. This methodology has also recently been applied to Kenya and Myanmar, the latter especially in the wake of Cyclone Nargis which devastated that country earlier this year.

If you have been following my mapping exploits, you’ll recognize that Google’s Map Maker sounds suspiciously like OpenStreetMap (OSM), which I’ve blogged about a few times before. In fact, there’s been quite a lot of noise in the geo/mapping blogosphere over how Google is duplicating the effort, at best, or trampling over, at worst, the open-data project. For example see the blog posts from Sjors Provoost, Andres, and from the OpenStreetMap blog itself. This prompted Ed Parsons, a mapping executive at Google, to post an unofficial clarification of sorts, which then generated lots of comments.

Personally, I very much agree with all the concerns Google Map Maker puts on the geospatial table vis-a-vis OpenStreetMap. I’m an avid OSM mapper (and I wish I had more time to contribute there) and I really would like it to succeed. But looking at things more objectively, I think that Google would not be getting all this flak if OpenStreetMap did not exist in the first place—they would be garnering almost universal acclaim instead. Similar negative commentary has beset Google when it introduced Knol and how that seems to encroach on the territory of Wikipedia, another open-data project. Well, it seems that Google is now really gathering data and becoming an information warehouse instead of simply being a company to “organize the world’s information,” something that’s been observed countless times before. So, Google fanboyism aside, what do you think?

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