Google Map Maker editing reopens, is that a participatory mapping?

Google has announced that it is reopening Map Maker up to editing in early August. The application was shut down after one Map Maker user pictured the Android robot urinating on the Apple logo outside Rawalpindi in Pakistan in April 2015. The re-opening Google Map Maker for edits brings back the question – is Google Map Maker collaborative and participatory tool as OpenStreetMap is?

The OpenStreetMap changed their licensing from the Creative Commons license to the Open Database Licence (ODbL) in September 2012 in order to have more legal security and a more specific license for databases rather than creative works. The previous license allowed free access to all the map images and all the underlying map data, such as points, lines and polygons. The current licence, on the other hand, is focused more on the ability to share, modify and use a database freely while maintaining the same freedom for others. The shift from map images to data (base) is clear in the licensing and it is also the main difference between OpenStreetMap and Google Map Maker. Yahoo Maps and Bing Maps do not have any tool similar to the Google Map Maker, which would allow users to modify data.


Android vs. Apple on Google Maps

The licensing difference is not the only difference between commercial online-map providers and OpenStreetMap. The systems also differ in the data that are actually visible on the map and what they represent. The difference in data type is not visible when users are in the “map view”, showing the basic map window composition. Users see only points, lines and polygons if the area is mapped, but without additional information about its features. The major difference regarding the data type occurs when the user switches to the “edit view”, where an editing window is available. Suddenly the maps are no longer just pictures, but become the data(base). The ability to see, edit and download the data(base) makes OSM much more usable then Google Map Maker, or even Yahoo Maps/Bing Maps, where users are limited to their API.

Kibera (Kenya) on OpenStreetMap and Google Maps

Kibera (Kenya) on OpenStreetMap and Google Maps

Google decided that in new version of Map Maker edits will be open for moderation by the community. Some edits will require moderation by Google operators. This is a notable change from how Map Maker operated in the past where most of the edits made to Map Maker were reviewed by Google operators. Google says that the main reason it is making the change to community moderation is because each time someone was found to be vandalizing the map, the community of editors stepped in a removed the offending feature. Google plans to select mappers in each region and offer the opportunity to be a Regional Lead on Map Maker.

Edits made in the regional leads area will be reviewed by Google automated systems and the Lead themselves. Edits made in these areas will only occasionally be moderated by Google operators. Map Maker will reopen in phases starting in early August and invitations will be sent to qualified Regional Lead candidates to apply for the role. This brings the corporate approach to the community mapping. It will be interesting to follow the competition between OpenStreetMap and Google Map Maker and maybe even wait with the answer if Google Map Maker collaborative and participatory tool.


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