Google Inches Toward Wikified Maps

from the community-needed dept

I've been saying for a few months that Google should begin wikifying Google Maps, so that users can make corrections and add missing information to Google's map database. Google took a tentative step in that direction this spring when it allowed people to edit business locations. But now John Battelle reports that Google has unveiled technology that would allow Google to turn Google Maps into a full-blown geographical wiki, with "roads, lakes, parks, points of interest, businesses, cities and localities" all fully editable. Not surprisingly, Google is rolling this out cautiously, making the functionality available first in obscure places like the Bermuda, Grenada, and Jamaica where Google hasn't been able to acquire good map data of its own.

Playing around with the site, the technology is a little clumsy to use, but it works and I'm sure it will get better as Google's UI wizards get some user feedback. The really hard part, I think, will be cultivating the community that's required for a successful peer production effort. People tend to think of Wikipedia as a website, but as Clay Shirky points out, it's better to think of Wikipedia as a bureaucracy for arguing about edits that happens to produce a website as its byproduct. Wikipedia depends on a dedicated core of Wikipedians who referee the editing process, combat vandalism, and resolve disputes. Without them, Wikipedia would dissolve into chaos in a matter of days. So Google needs to figure out how to cultivate an analogous community of Google Map editors. There's a chicken-and-egg problem because they need to let people edit their own neighborhoods to really draw on local knowledge, but the site could be destroyed quickly if they don't have enough public-spirited editors in place beforehand. The incremental strategy they're pursuing so far seems like the right one: get people familiar with the technology, recruit people interested in map editing, and most importantly develop the processes and principles that allow the editing process to proceed smoothly.

Google will also want to think hard about licensing. Wikipedia uses the GNU Free Documentation License, which gives anyone the freedom to reuse Wikipedia content. This serves as a kind of social contract with users, ensuring that the data generated by the community continues to be available to the community. Google may find that it needs to make similar commitments before a significant number of people would be willing to participate in the editing process. On the other hand, freeing the map data might prove different if the vendor currently selling Google mapping data sees it as a threat. In that rather sticky situation, Google might be forced to start from scratch, creating a parallel site created entirely by users.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    IronChef, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 10:43am


    This is pretty cool, but seems like functionality that has been in the subscription Google Earth tool. (Real cool, btw)

    I wonder how it will stack up against

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    mudlock, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 10:51am

    Wikipedia works because there's enough people interested (and educated) in each topic to make each it worthwhile to a large enough community to work to ensure the topic's quality. I can't imagine there will be a large enough community for every. little. township. to make this actually work for anywhere other than big cities (for which googlemaps already works). Now, where have I heard that argument before...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    TheDock22, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:04am


    I think this is a good idea, but would you be able to request information be removed? I could just see a disgruntled ex posting someone's home address out of spite.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:17am

    Re: Neat

    What's to stop you from doing that on Wikipedia?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:21am

    Don't forget about Open Street Map (

    It may be in Google's interest to support this program in some way and grab their data.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Tim Lee, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 11:25am


    All but the smallest towns have more interested people than the average biography does. And people can't distort maps of their neighborhoods to make themselves look good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    TheDock22, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re: Neat

    What's to stop you from doing that on Wikipedia?

    I thought you had to have a hundred or so people "vote" the Wikipedia entry before it became a new topic. An ex DID try to do this to me, but apparently couldn't generate enough support to get it posted. FAIL. :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    anon, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:36pm

    nice analysis

    Great analysis...good insight. Interesting subject. I've been hoping for this development for a while.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Nick Overstreet (profile), Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:44pm

    Mobility = the key

    If Google really wants this to take off, they need to make a mobile interface for this.
    They have Google Maps for Windows Mobile. Ideally a user should be able to fire up Google Maps on their GPS phone and make edits to the map as they are driving. If they hit a part of the map that is inaccurate, or needs changing or updating, the person could do it while they are right there with live GPS data.
    This is something I've felt is a long time coming. There are several roads in my area that were re-routed to go around small towns instead of through them. The problem is they aren't updated on ANY maps, so when you're driving them on GPS, your GPS thinks you're driving through the middle of nothing and starts freaking out trying to get you back on road ways.
    With live editable maps, problems like these could be easily solved helping the maps make more sense to people who would be unfamiliar with the roads.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    mudlock, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 1:59pm

    Re: Re:

    I'll give you "more". I'm still not convinced it's "enough".

    I guess time will tell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Chris, Jun 27th, 2008 @ 4:24pm

    Re: Mobility = the key

    Right. That's exactly what we need to have people doing, editing maps while they're driving. As if talking on the phone wasn't bad enough as it was...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Computer Consulting Blog, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 5:36pm

    trust less, research more ...

    Despite the Wikipedia "warning" that it is reader produced and thus not necessarily 100% accurate, I think it is becoming more and more a site that people trust without question, which I think can be a dangerous thing. I think really it's dangerous to treat anything on the Internet as absolute fact, so you should always do a bit of research and check a few different sources before committing to one specific "truth" found online. Since everything online is created by a person (at least for now!), human error is always a possibility. Anything important requires a little research anyway, so taking the extra time to do a small fact check can be really critical and prevent mistakes. Still, this is an interesting idea … I agree though, it's probably true that it's not one for look-as-you-drive though, if it's going to follow the same editorial principles as regular Wikipedia!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    wooferhound, Jun 29th, 2008 @ 9:04pm is doing this already
    this is not Wikipedia, it's Wikimapia
    read carefully

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    david, Jun 30th, 2008 @ 12:12pm


    there is a really interesting conversation between clay shirky and daniel goleman regarding the social habits of the web. samples of it can be listened to at

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Ruben Zevallos Jr., Jun 30th, 2008 @ 8:55pm

    I loved the Google Maps since it's first day

    I loved the Google Maps since it's first day... since then, I'm using and developing some ideas for it... I think if it became a Wiki... the maps will be more clear and we can help the maps to be more updated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    sephirothrr, Aug 29th, 2008 @ 5:33pm

    Re: Nice!

    Um, wikimapia is just a hashup of Google Earth.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    cebu city street map, Jan 29th, 2009 @ 11:55pm

    cebu city street map

    This is great information, I need to start a blog on my site and hopefully it will really help me get some better traffic!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Iqra, Mar 28th, 2011 @ 9:34pm

    Good thinks

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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