In the past five years, Google has helped put 20 million locations literally on the map using its service Plus Codes, a free and open source digital addressing system. Now, the company is stepping up its efforts to put more homes and businesses on Google Maps with a new tool called Address Maker.
Address Maker is a free smartphone app that helps governments and nonprofits create addresses for entire towns or villages. With Address Maker, the process of creating addresses at scale can go from taking years to just weeks, Google says.
There are around 2 billion people around the globe who don't have an address, Google Maps Product Manager Amanda Bishop told reporters. "This makes it difficult to do things that people take for granted," she said, "like receiving deliveries, voting, opening a bank account or even applying for a job."
So in 2015, Google created Plus Codes. It uses latitude and longitude to create a short, digital address that can represent any location on the planet.
While the tool has had a notable impact, the process of creating addresses at scale was still too time consuming and manual, Bishop said. Workers from government entities or NGOs would use existing geospatial information system tools -- not designed for this purpose and which typically come at a cost -- to determine the precise locations of buildings.
The new Address Maker provides a workflow management system specifically designed for this use case, with ease of use in mind. Administrators can use the app to manage on-the-ground workers and assign them areas to survey. They can use it to draw maps of roads and paths that don't already show up on Google Maps. Workers can then go in the field with a smart phone to collect precise location data and sync up their data with Address Maker the next time they go online. Once a location gets an address, they can put up a physical board with the Plus Code ID.
Google developed Address Maker by partnering with the NGO "Addressing the Unaddressed" to bring addresses to communities in Kolkata, India. Since then, it has been used by communities in The Gambia, South Africa, Kenya and the Navajo nation in the US. Google is now taking applications from governments and NGOs that have the capability and authority to run scaled addressing programs in their areas.
In Kolkata, Addressing the Unaddressed worked with government authorities so that the new addresses could be used to provide residents with ID cards. In the case of The Gambia, Google worked directly with the government.
"They're looking for solutions for addressing, and we're providing the tools," Bishop said. "They own the data, and they can share it however they would like."