By Macharia Kamau
Internet users can now add information Google Maps using a software that allows them to draw, label and provide attributes for roads, parks or rivers.
For the company, turning users into ‘citizen cartographer’ is a different approach to the past strategy, whereby products and services were developed in partnership with large institutions.
"We usually work with partners to develop projects, but maps are an exception because we put together the basics and then open them up to the public," explained Mr Joe Mucheru of Google East Africa.
Since the company launched the service in Kenya about a month ago, he said, there has been an upward surge in the number of people with interest in Kenya, either viewing or adding information on the country’s map.
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The company also launched the Google Maps Kenyan domain (maps.google.co.ke), making it easier for Internet users to access the country’s map.
"The service does not simply offer searchable digitised maps but also allow users to update them," explained Mucheru.
Kenya as seen Google Maps.
The platform to edit Google Maps is a strategy aimed at increasing both the number of local Internet users and amount of Kenyan content online. This is because of the relevance of the maps specific to Kenya and giving them the ability to edit them.
Kenya as seen Google Maps.
"Absence of content online is one of the biggest challenges not only for Kenya but the whole of Africa. Being able to add content relevant to local users on the maps is one way of getting content that is relevant to people in specific areas," he said.
"More accurate local content will also improve the breadth of information available about a given area besides making it easier for tourists or investors to search for information online."
Advertising is Google’s main revenue generation stream and getting Internet users to use the search engine guarantees more advertising revenue.
Given the new approach, where one can be able to edit maps, it would led to more people using Google and also spending more time on the search engine and its related sites.
Mucheru, however, reckons that such projects are capital intensive and take time before an investor can recoup the money invested.
He said that as long as a project is relevant to Internet users then it is viable in the long-term and that is the strategy Google takes in developing products.
"We try to develop content and usually start with whether people have an interest in the product then the issue of revenue generation comes later," he said.
Using Google Maps and Map Maker, local businesses have the opportunity to create business listings and include information like their physical address and contacts as well as products on offer.
"They can also get user ratings, which can tell how they compare with others in the same line of business," said Mucheru.
He contends that the system has checks in which information posted by users is locked out from people who might want to do malicious edits.
"Users’ edited information does not reflect immediately on the main maps but has to go through checks.
However, with time and depending on the accuracy of previous posts, one is able to build trust levels and their information appears much faster," he said.
Google Maps can be viewed using an ordinary Web browser and one has the options of viewing a traditional map, satellite and aerial photographs of the place as well as terrain view that shows the physical terrain of a place — like hills and mountains.