Google Map Maker

First up, let’s get a common misconception out of the way: Google Map Maker is not the My Maps feature in Google Maps. They’re 2 separate things altogether.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, what is Google Map Maker? According to the intro page:

Google Map Maker allows you to contribute, share and edit map information for certain regions around the world.

Sounds generic enough. There must be a hundred other services all around the world offering this service. But wait, what’s this "certain regions" thingie in that sentence? Turns out that this service is not available to all countries. For example, it’s not available to Singapore and US map users, but it is available to Malaysian users! "Wow", you say, "finally something we have that they don’t!". Well, don’t be too happy. If you look at the FAQ:

Question #1: I live in (MyCountryName) and am not able to add a place/road/point of interest in Google Map Maker. Why not?

Answer: At present, Google Map Maker is open for mapping in 174 countries and territories. These are mostly places that are not already well-mapped by commercial services, like those we use to provide data for Google Earth and Google Maps.

Whoah. Bit of reality check there. Turns out that they’re offering Google Map Maker to us (along with other "privileged" countries) because we’re f***ed up. Google is unable to get sufficient quality information about our terrain from the official channels to give us good maps. Unlike, for e.g. Singapore, where traffic information is already being fed from some government agency to Google live so they’re all prepared to re-route Google Nav users in case of jams and such. If you’re using Brut’s hacked version of Google Maps for turn-by-turn navigation, you’ll notice that there’s a real lack of good POI information about our Malaysian roads. Petrol kiosks, banks etc etc. There’s nothing there.

Well, nothing that we don’t already know, that’s why MalSingMaps and MalFreeMaps are so popular here. The community has taken it into our own hands to make things better for us.

So here’s what Google has given to us for us to help ourselves get a good quality set of maps in the Google eco-system. In Map Maker, Google has provided us with a fairly (I use that term loosely here) recent set of satellite pictures and road maps that they have procured from their partners (I think it’s TeleAtlas, iirc). It is for the community to share POIs and provide road updates that Google may expose in the official Google Maps later on. 

Note that this is not the only way POIs can be created in Google Maps. Businesses should always be encouraged to add their business listings inGoogle Places and information submitted there will naturally show up on Google Maps too (and if you’re a business owner or know any, you really should tell them about this). But that mee rebus stall that’s still being run by a septuagenarian at the 5 foot corner of OCBC down in Uptown? Fat hope getting him to use a calculator, much less a computer hooked up to the Internet. 

That’s where we (the community) come in. We can easily add on information to Google Maps and we can also actively moderate the information that has been submitted by others. The moderation bit is important: I had personally fell victim to misinformation that was posted via Google Map Maker. Some idiot created a POI called "Kuala Lumpur International Airport" right next to Jalan Kuchai Lama and I almost went off on a wild goose chase into the heart of KL when I should have been headed to the airport. After that, I went on to Map Maker and requested for the POI to be deleted and it was, after a few days. 

Why should we support Google Maps?

I know that some of you prefer to have offline maps rather than using Google Maps/Navigation. But IMHO, online maps are the future. I really don’t buy the reason that you fear your data usage going over the top if you use Google Navigation to drive around town. Most of us using Android already have data plans (for me, Android is useless without data). And I have driven the entire day using GPRS/EDGE to feed Google Navigation, it was loading smoothly the whole day and I didn’t even notice a spike in data usage when checking against 3G Watchdog.

And yes, there’re other competing options too. I personally know that Waze, for example, is a competing service that relies on community-driven data. But I’ve used Waze and I’m extremely pessimistic about it being able to get off the ground. It relies on user to contribute basic things such as roads and paths and when I tried to edit the data I collected while driving back to Batu Gajah (hometown), I found myself staring at a huge path of barren land without even a reference point as to where I can start from. Whereas, Google Map Maker has a solid starting point with the commercial maps that they licensed. Building structures, roads, they’re all there.

I’ve started using Map Maker actively to populate POIs in my own neighborhood. It’s an impossible task to do alone so I hope I’ve done a good enough job of selling the rest of y’all on this as well. And get this: you don’t have to be an Android user to take an interest in this. Google Maps is available for iPhone, BB, Symbian and yes, even Window Mobile. It’s relevant to all smartphone platforms available in Malaysia! So please, spread the word. Adding POIs and doing some moderating in an area you’re familiar with is really not too much trouble. With enough contributions, we might even take over some "1st world countries" right south of us :)

Some links:

Google Map Maker:
Map Maker Forums:
Map Maker Forums for Malaysia!!:
Tutorials on using Map Maker:

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