Although Anas Qtiesh isn't a surveyor or a researcher for a map-making company, he is participating in Google's "Map Maker" project and is helping to make the maps more detailed.
In a corner of a residential neighborhood near central San Francisco, Qtiesh, 25, showed off an online Google map on his smartphone and a coin laundry he added to it.
"I used this launderette a lot, so I added it to the map of San Francisco," he says. "I haven't been back there since my laundry was stolen though."
Google Maps launched in 2005. The service rapidly became widely used, allowing people to search maps according to various criteria. The Map Maker project, in which users add their own information to Google's maps, was initiated around the world to increase the data that they contain.
Qtiesh, who works in IT for a nonprofit organization, is originally from Syria, and after graduating from a university in Damascus, he emigrated to the United States in 2009. He soon learned of Map Maker, and busied himself right away in helping to build maps of Syria.
"Up until then, there weren't many detailed maps of Syria," he says. Qtiesh contacted family and friends living there, and continuously added roads, favorite cafes, theaters, restaurants and a host of other information to the Map Maker project maps, which featured little detail at the time. On some days, he worked on the project for up to four hours.
Google first implemented this system in India. The same method was subsequently introduced to other countries as a means of making maps in developing countries that had little in the way of detailed map data.
In Japan, Google Maps came to use detailed data from map publisher Zenrin Co., Ltd., but such situations are extremely rare around the world.
"There are many countries that don't have detailed maps, so we have to make them," says Google group product manager Keiichi Kawai. "However, there's a limit to what Google itself can do. That's why a system was created in which everyone can help make them."
To begin with, Google posts a rough map and satellite photographs online for use as a starting point. Anyone who signs up to the project can add roads, buildings and other features. People with extensive local knowledge consult with each other to confirm whether the data is accurate. Project participants who have proved their reliability to a certain extent are designated as local experts and given the right to approve data. Incidentally, Qtiesh is a local expert for Syria.
Once enough additions accumulate to create a relatively detailed map, it is promoted to an official Google map.
"When the (map-making process) gathers momentum, it spreads far and wide, and in many cases it approaches a standard worthy of promotion within a few months," says Kawai.
When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010, Google provided information gathered by its Map Maker project to the United Nations. Recently, it has been cooperating with the World Bank to provide financial aid to developing countries.
In 2011, the project began to expand to countries for which there were already detailed maps, such as the United States, Canada and European nations. This was done so that more up-to-date and detailed map data could be created by adding information not included in pre-existing maps, as well as changes to roads and buildings. According to Google product development chief Kentaro Tokusei, the development of Map Maker "has created a tool for documenting civilization."
Maps of Japan are currently not part of the Map Maker project due to system maintenance and other factors, but it is possible for Japanese to add to maps of other countries.
There are other map-making initiatives that gather the knowledge of the general public, instead of drawing on the resources of governments or businesses.
British-based nonprofit organization The OpenStreetMap Foundation (OSM) provides an online world map that can be edited by anyone (http://www.openstreetmap.org). It is also possible to make additions to its map of Japan. In the case of Google, the copyright for a map created through its Map Maker project is retained by the company, but with OSM, the person who added the data to its map becomes the rights holder.
"We started out from a desire to create a map that could be used freely when people want to use it," says OSM Foundation Japan Vice President Taichi Furuhashi, 37.
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