Official Philippine Launch of Google Map Maker

3:00 am PHT

I was invited to attend the Google Map Maker Power User’s Launch last October 7 at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel. If you know me, you’d know that I won’t refuse such an event. Unfortunately, I arrived at the venue from work a bit too late for the presentation, but I managed to get to talk with Dickson Seow, Corporate Communications Head of Google Southeast Asia (based in Singapore), and Jason Chuck, Product Marketing Manager for the APAC region (based in Hong Kong), regarding my questions and opinions about Google Map Maker. Apparently, Dickson had been looking forward to meet me and Jason had even read some of my blog posts. I guess Aileen Apolo, the Google Philippines Country Representative, had briefed them about me.  :-P

Review of related literature

I have said my piece regarding Google Map Maker in two previous posts. I suggest you read them to see my general opinion regarding Google Map Maker.

And since I was late in arriving at the event, I’ll let these following links to blog posts from the attendees and others be your guide. I particularly recommend Mikko’s, Jayvee’s, and Blogie’s posts as being particularly in-depth.

In addition, here are a few news articles written about the launch event. If you haven’t attended the event and want to see the meat of the presentation done by the Google guys, check out the vidcast from

I would just like to correct one major fact that two of the news articles got wrong. The Philippines is not the first country in Southeast Asia to have the Map Maker service. The BusinessWeek article states “with the launch, the Philippines will be the first Southeast Asian nation where the application is available” while ZDNet Asia’s piece said “Company executives said the Philippines is the first Southeast Asian market to get Google Map Maker, which has already been rolled out in 121 other countries.” Contrary to the reports, Vietnam is actually the first such country and it was one of the initial 13 countries to have the service when Google Map Maker was launched back in June. Moreover, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar are other Southeast Asian countries that were launched at the same time as the Philippines.

I think the reporters misinterpreted what people from Google said and that is the fact that the Philippines is the first country in Southeast Asia where Google Map Maker was officially launched via an event cum meet-up with its target audience. I asked Dickson why they decided to have a launch event and he said (IIRC) that they see the Philippines as having a lot of people who would be enthusiastic in contributing to such an endeavor.

Anyway, in the vidcast (link in the list above), I was a bit annoyed that in demonstrating Google Map Maker, Jason Chuck added a point for the Ascott Serviced Apartments (the former Oakwood) and wrongly placed it where the Mercury Drugstore in Glorietta 3 is located. (I’d have forgiven him since he’s not from the Philippines, but he said in the vidcast that he was sure where it was.) Of course I immediately went to Google Map Maker to correct it and it seemed that he deleted it already.  :-P

The hard questions

I don’t mean to brag but it seems that the reason why I was invited to the launch was because I have this reputation for being the Filipino Google Maps “expert” (Jayvee, in fact, described me as hard-core). I guess that’s true since I haven’t seen anyone else who’s as passionate about me about web mapping and the so-called “neogeography”. Google hopes to target people like me to contribute to Google Map Maker. (In short, binenta ako ni Aileen!  ;-))

However, it’s precisely because I’m such an online map fanatic why I am not as enthusiastic as others in contributing to Google Map Maker. Most of my readers know that I spend some of my time editing in Wikipedia and most would equate contributing to Wikipedia the same as working on Google Map Maker. But there’s a big difference: the contributions to Wikipedia are free (as in free speech) for others to use because it uses an open-content license, while the aggregate of the contributions to Google Map Maker is owned exclusively (as of now) by Google alone.

While it’s expected that Google will offer the contributions completely for free (as in free beer) when it gets pushed to Google Maps and the Maps API as pre-rendered map tiles, I am not free (as in free speech) to access to the raw data—the points, the lines, the polygons, and their metadata. Right now, I have no way of getting such data and rolling out my own home-grown web map mashup. I could not even print out the map imagery and put it on a brochure since that would be using Google’s content outside the Maps API service (which is against the TOS) even if I had contributed that data to Google.

That’s why many of the questions I asked of both Dickson and Jason centered on the free-ness (as in speech) of the data users enter in Google Map Maker. Well, since both of them are on the marketing side of Google and not on the geo-development or directions side of things, they could not provide any definitive answer. Although Jason did hint that Google plans to release an API for Google Map Maker itself so that the contributors can get at their data. I’ll have to wait on that development.

Anyway, I found out that Google had tried to talk to local GIS companies to obtain and license their data but either the data was not good enough or the negotiations didn’t prosper. So the next solution Google pursued is to open up Map Maker to Filipinos so that they can get the data straight from the users.

What now?

Based on what I’ve learned from the launch event, I won’t spend a lot of my time on Google Map Maker. It’s not a big loss for Google; there’s plenty of Filipinos who are excited and are getting addicted to their new service. However, I do plan to help moderate the data in Google Map Maker (though not in adding new data). I still am a Google fanboy and I hate to see them get inaccurate data.

What I plan to do with the bulk of my time instead is to continue contributing to OpenStreetMap or OSM, something I have been doing since last year. OpenStreetMap is really quite similar to Google Map Maker, but like Wikipedia, the data in OSM is placed under a free content license and is therefore not owned by a single company. Contributing to OSM will actually give me a better ROI of my time than spending it on Google’s service.

Dickson asserted that Google is not out to beat the competition (OSM) and he believes that some competition is good for everyone. I also believe that a healthy bit of competition is a good thing in general. The only problem is that it divides the collaborative human resource into several projects with practically the same goal. (This is the primary reason why I was initially against WikiPilipinas: it divides the human effort.) Then again, I go along with the thinking that there is no deadline—there’s plenty of time and human resources to make both projects successful.

I just hope that Google will eventually open up the data to be used, adapted, and repurposed for limitless applications unencumbered by the profit-seeking nature of one company. But until that time comes, I personally won’t recommend Google Map Maker.  :-/

(Now, if Google would be willing to let OSM use the satellite imagery they have at hand—just like Yahoo! did two years ago—then it would be really swell and I wouldn’t care anymore if Google Map Maker remains a walled garden! Hehehe.)

That’s Jason Chuck, the Google poster boy.  :-D (Thanks to TeamAsia for the pic!)

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