MANILA--Search giant Google on Wednesday unveiled a new Web application that allows users to fill in content such as names of streets and establishments, to help create maps of countries.
Company executives said the Philippines is the first Southeast Asian market to get Google Map Maker, which has already been rolled out in 121 other countries.
According to Jason Chuck, Google's Asia-Pacific product marketing manager, the map-making tool is specifically targeted at countries where "no good base line maps exist".
"Palawan is a great example of a beautiful Philippine location with limited online visibility, out-of-date maps, and many uncharted areas."
-- Jason Chuck
Except for the major urban areas, the Philippines currently has limited map information.
At a press briefing here, Chuck said the Web application seeks to address the lack of "comprehensive, high-quality, and up-to-date maps" of countries such as the Philippines.
"Since the map data is collected from people who have first-hand knowledge of the area, the information becomes more meaningful and relevant to users," he explained. "Google Map Maker provides people access to local knowledge by providing a robust, easy-to-use tool to better catalog local areas and support their development."
The search giant said it is hoping Filipinos will offer information about their hometowns and provinces. Such contribution, he noted, as well as the editing of map content will be placed entirely in the hands of the user community--similar to how Wikipedia works.
Company officials noted that, upon validation, content provided by the user community could eventually be integrated into Google Maps.
Executives added that the search giant is still uncertain about how it will monetize the new feature. Chuck said: "Of course, there are ads on the site that users can see. But, what we want to do right now is to help generate useful and updated maps to enrich user experience."
Allowing anyone to contribute to the maintenance and building of map data provides a unique opportunity for map enthusiasts in the Philippines to make a personal contribution to development, he added.
"Palawan is a great example of a beautiful Philippine location with limited online visibility, out-of-date maps, and many uncharted areas," Chuck said. "Local residents can use Google Map Maker to make Palawan's many beaches and other natural attractions accessible to both local and international tourists."
Seal of approval
In the weeks leading to the formal launch, Google had allowed the application to be previewed by members of the academe and government sector.
"Educators are always looking for better and more effective teaching methods, and I think Google Map Maker is a blessing in this sense. It's an interactive tool for teaching geography to students," Carlo A. Arcilla, director of the UP National Institute of Geological Sciences, said in a statement released by Google.
The National Mapping Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA), the Philippine government's map-making agency, said it uses Google Earth and Google Maps as one of several tools to cross-reference its map data. The Authority said it sees potential benefits of Google Map Maker.
Henry Ayeras, officer in charge for promotion and marketing at NAMRIA, said in the statement that the application's approach of user-generated content "makes the tedious and costly process of data gathering easier and faster than if we were to do everything by ourselves".
Melvin G. Calimag is a freelance IT writer based in the Philippines.