Fans of Google Maps, rejoice. Even if you can’t visit, you can now plot an afternoon drive through North Korea:
Google threw open its Google Maps program for North Korea to “citizen cartographers” around the world on Tuesday, urging them to contribute whatever knowledge they have about one of the world’s most secretive countries.
The new map it published at the same time — which shows streets and important buildings in the capital and elsewhere — is focusing new attention on the North at a time when the country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States and its allies over tightened sanctions and has promised to conduct a third nuclear test. An earlier map was mostly blank.
But in North Korea’s case, crowdsourcing the maps still has limitations, because so little is known about the hermit kingdom:
Google Maps’ basic premise — Internet users filling in information about their neighborhood to help update and perfect a map — is severely limited for North Korea. The country is cut off from the Internet, except for its tiny elite, and even that group’s access is controlled.
This comes on the heels of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt’s visit to North Korea, where they reportedly showed off an Android tablet. If you missed it, his daughter, Sophie Schmidt, has a memorable account of the trip here. She describes an “e-Potemkin Village” of dozens of students sitting at computers doing nothing, and writes about the country’s limited existing network:
>North Korea has a national intranet, a walled garden of scrubbed content taken from the real Internet. Our understanding is that some university students have access to this. … What’s so odd about the whole thing is that no one in North Korea can even hope to afford the things they showed us. And it’s not like they’re going to export this technology. They’re building products for a market that doesn’t exist.Those in the know are savvier than you’d expect. Exhibit A: Eric fielded questions like, “When is the next version of Android coming out?”and “Can you help us with e-Settlement so that we can put North Korean apps on Android Market?” Answers: soon, and No, silly North Koreans, you’re under international bank sanctions.They seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can’t hope to keep it out. Indeed, some seemed to understand that it’s only with connectivity that their country has a snowball’s chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century
So far no word on when Street View will be available.