While Google is (rather controversially) phasing out services such as Reader, also it is increasingly focussed on the core products, especially its travel-related tool Maps.
The popularity of Google Maps with users was demonstrated when the app for Apple iOS was released last December and it was subsequently downloaded 10 million times in the first two days, offering relief to users who had complained about Apple's own buggy app.
Nevertheless, despite its wider popularity, Google Maps does not exactly have universal quality around the world, in terms of the actual content.
In an attempt to beef up the service in terms of accuracy of data and local information, Google chose to organize a 42-day long Mapathon event in India (concluding next week).
As part of the event, users in India were encouraged to use Google Map Maker tool to update maps - adding roads, updating point of interest, adding more granular information, drawing boundaries etc.
This week, Google organized an interesting 60 minute Google+ Hangout with Google's Map Maker team in India. A total of six Google employees participated in the Hangout along with a power user (of Map Maker) from Philippines.
History of Map Maker Tool
In 2008, couple of strong engineers in Google's Bangalore office gathered together to create a tool that would allow users to add anything that is important to them (from map perspective) on Google Maps.
Map Maker Tool was built in India and it went live with very small number of country, now the tool supports 180 countries.
Significant number of users for Map Maker tool are from India.
Google believes that accurate maps can be created only by harnessing the power of locals, people who live in an area. Google is continuously trying to enhance the product for users to make it easy to map.
From the time of launch of Map Maker, it has went through number of iterations. Now, in the tool, there is ability to add roads, places, boundaries, point of interests, etc. The main element in this whole exercise is the review process.
Google says Map Maker is a tool that is targeted for people with a community mindset, at the same time it is very complex to build a map from scratch.
The complexities include - allowing millions of people to edit the map across the globe, ensuring the information is accurate, and keeping an eye on the quality.
How the India map in Google Maps was created
Initially, the community helped Google in getting various parts of India mapped with Map Maker.
Google has also invested a lot of effort in building the map of india. Few of the initiatives taken by Google were the Ground Truth project and Mapathon event.
Ground Truth is a project that is focused on building high quality maps. Last year, Google launched 'traffic view' in India, and then it launched 'Navigation' for Android users. For these major features/services to work as intended, there has to a good quality map in place.
Ground Truth is happening with lot of partnerships that also include the government.
Google is also implementing changes in some of its other products to make Google Maps look beautiful. One such example is the recent launch of "Business Photos" in India.
In India, Google has also developed panorama view for places like monuments and national parks where users can have a virtual tour of these places right inside Maps.
Uganda slums in Google Maps
Jayanth Mysore ()product manager) says:
"This is my favorite story about Google Maps. There were users in Africa who led a mapping team to map slums in Kampala, a small town in Uganda.
"People came with their paper notebooks, pen, paper, pencil to map out every little slum areas in Kampala and now all these details are there in Google Maps. This is the spirit of community."
Meet CNR Nair, world's top contributor to Google Maps
CNR Nair ("CNR" as he is fondly known within Google) from Thiruvananthapuram (Kerala) has been selected by Google as its Google Map Maker "Advocate for India".
This title wasn't that easy to get.
CNR holds the following records to his name: 160,000 edits individually, reviewed 11,000 edits made by the community, single handedly drew 40,000 kms length of road, created 3000 business listings, 6800 point of interest, about 1400 days of work, and wrote 11600 reviews.
Top five cities by his contribution: Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Kollam, Thiruvananthapuram - all are in Kerala, India.
CNR Nair says via pre-recorded video:
"I do mapping for at least two hours a day. I get up at 4:30 in the morning and do mapping up to 6:30 am".
He is the world's top contributor to Google Maps. Sadly, he is no more. CNR Nair: 1941 - 2012.
Recommendations by Google on using Map Maker
- Mapping a village/suburb probably matters more than mapping a main-road, people might not be aware of a village than they are with a city. Take a few minutes to help millions users.
- Grow your community in any small way. Example, join hands with three other friends in your locality and map your locality.
- Lead more organized community development. Pick a cause, may be its for tourism industry to show the restaurants and hotels, for the healthcare industry to show people the hospitals and emergency locations.
What does it take to maintain the quality?
- Don't ever think you have mapped everything. The moment you start with a road, there will be by-lanes. Then there will be buildings on that by-lane, then there are businesses inside those buildings, then there are parking lots in the buildings , then the interiors of the buildings (we don't support that in mapping today, but look for that in future). These detail matters to somebody somewhere.
Google says that the ultimate goal is to keep Google Maps updated with the changing world. This is the ideal state that they want to be in.
Google is continuously working on various channels to achieve this.
One such is the motivated users who use Map Maker to keep the Maps updated with changes like - road closing, new roads, name change to roads etc.
Also, Google uses its 'StreetView' process where Google cars drive around the city to capture information, but Google says that they cannot drive all the time to keep the map updated.
Then, there is 'Business Owners' program where the owners update their business information like phone numbers, website addresses etc.
Google also engages with third parties like NGO, governments to enrich map data.
Satellite imagery update through Map Maker
Satellite image is very costly to procure. Google is trying to get into a mode of quarterly cycle updates, for places where they see loyal and high level engagements from Map Maker community. These places will be prioritized to update their satellite imagery.
Here is a recording of the full Hangout: