Friday, November 09, 2007

Mapping the "Dark Continent"

Mapping services like mapquest, yahoo maps, google maps and map-based gps units do not work in most African countries. This is because there is no GIS data for these places. This is a problem that needs a tropically tolerant solution and I am glad to say that Google might have the answer.
Google is using crowdsourcing to solve this problem in India. What they are dong is providing software that allows local people to draw/overlay GIS data on top of satellite imagery. This project came to light at the Cambridge Conference in July. Michael Jones, CTO of Google Earth talked about this in his presentation at the conference. Phil Bridges has an audio recording of the talk in this post and the relevant part of the talk has been transcribed by Dan Karran in this other post.

I think getting the data is one part of the solution. The second part of it, is how the data is used. In Ghana, most of the streets do not have street signs. So giving someone directions based on street names and house numbers will probably not be a tropically tolerant use of the data. The question is will Google go the extra mile and provide directions that make sense in the appropriate cultural context ?

I am also curious about who ends up owning the data ? It will be great if Google allows the community to own all of the data or a portion of licensing fees, etc ?

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