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Google Map Maker: Unleash your inner cartographer

Now anyone can add some details to maps of Iceland, Pakistan, and some other countries. Many could benefit--but should Google be paying you for the work?

Google on Monday unveiled a new Web-based tool, Map Maker, that lets people add roads, lakes, businesses, and other features to unmapped regions of Google Maps.

Google Map Maker lets people add details to maps in some countries.
Google Map Maker lets people add details to maps in some countries. Google

With the tool, people can using tracing tools to build maps in Cyprus, Iceland, Pakistan, and Vietnam, according to the Google LatLong blog. Also open for cartographic contributions are several Caribbean nations: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Grenada, Jamaica, Netherlands Antilles, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, it's great that this kind of activity can be crowd-sourced (please excuse the jargon) so the community (please excuse the jargon again) can contribute to a project that reduces the amount of digitally uncharted terrain. Google has given us a way to help make a difference that, while small, could collectively become quite large.

But on the other hand, I can think of worthy causes in greater need of charity or free labor than Google. If we're all going to be augmenting Google Maps with user-generated content, wouldn't it be nice if we could do it through a more neutral mechanism that lets others benefit from the work, too? Geotagged entries in Wikipedia show on Google Maps, but not Google Maps alone, at least theoretically.

Overall, I think my first reaction will carry the day for me.

That's because, fundamentally, Google Maps is a service not just consumed by many but also repackaged by many through the availability of the Google Maps API (application programming interface). So until the day Google flips its Don't Be Evil switch to the "off" position, Google Maps is in effect a public utility, and many can benefit from contributions to the service.

Google Map Maker looks slick, but it would be slicker with better satellite imagery. Parts of Iceland, one of my favorite places on Earth, are too coarse for any tracing.