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1/29/2013
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Google Maps North Korea With Help From Users

Individuals around the world are contributing geo-information about secretive North Korea.

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The Google Maps depiction of North Korea now includes details like the location of Labor Camp 22, thanks to the free labor provided by Google's Map Maker community.

Google on Monday said it had expanded the amount of detail available on its map of North Korea with the help of contributed cartography.

"To build this map, a community of citizen cartographers came together in Google Map Maker to make their contributions such as adding road names and points of interest," said Jayanth Mysore, senior product manager of Google Map Maker in a blog post. "This effort has been active in Map Maker for a few years and today the new map of North Korea is ready and now available on Google Maps."

[ Google is active in many countries. Read Google U.K., Raspberry Pi Donate School PCs. ]

Mysore acknowledged that the map of North Korea is not perfect, but expressed hope that people from around the world will continue helping Google improve the quality of Google Maps. There are limits to what the Map Maker Community can do, however. Frequent users of Google Maps will note the absence of Google Maps Street View imagery of North Korean capital Pyongyang.

Google launched Map Maker in 2008 outside the U.S. as a way to allow locals in various countries to make Google's maps better, following a similar effort, OpenStreetMap, that was founded in 2004. The difference between the two projects is that Google's Map Maker data is as closed as North Korea: You can put data in but you can't get it out for use elsewhere. OpenStreetMap, on the other hand, lives up to its name and allows reuse of contributed geo-data.

Google made Map Maker available to U.S. users in 2011, but its value to the company continues to be as a way to gather geo-data that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.

Even so, Map Maker is not without its challenges. Despite Google's terms of use, content submitted by users may not sit well with local authorities, thereby complicating Google's international business operations. One of the Google+ reviews of Hoeryong Concentration Camp in North Korea, available through Google Maps, for example, dryly observes, "Excellent service, food and rooms. It lives up to the Hotel California's motto ... you can check in anytime but you can never leave."

In other words, don't expect Street View driving permits soon.

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