Friday, April 1, 2011

Tech 4 the good

Technology applied + good corporate citizenship ... the Google experience

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Google Map Maker boosts disaster relief efforts

SINGAPORE--Initially built to allow online users to fill in parts of the world with near-zero mapping details, Google Map Maker has found a humanitarian purpose where updates to maps of disaster-hit areas across the globe are aiding emergency relief efforts.

Launched in June 2008 and described as Google's "citizen cartography" Web tool, Map Maker was developed as the solution to mapping parts of the world where there are no available commercial maps. The tool relies on user contributions from local communities to mark out geospatial features, explained Andrew McGlinchey, head of product management, Google Southeast Asia.

India was the first country the Web tool was originally intended for, he added, in an interview at the sidelines of the Google Geo Community Summit here Thursday. Map Maker is currently available in over 100 countries, mostly developing nations where quality maps are difficult to source.

According to McGlinchey, who is based here, user contributions to the map-building service within the Asia-Pacific region have been highest in the Philippines, India, Pakistan and Vietnam.

He noted that Google "didn't have a humanitarian purpose in mind" when it initiated development of Map Maker, but there were instances where the tool proved "extremely helpful" in facilitating disaster response efforts.

A turn for humanitarian

Ed Parsons, Google's geospatial technologist, concurred. In a separate interview with ZDNet Asia, he emphasized that it is critical to know the underlying infrastructure of a country.

Through user-contributed updates, someone would be able to access the base infrastructure of an area before it was affected by a disaster, or find out if there is still a passable road between the airport and relief centers, Parsons explained. Such information can then be accessed by relief organizations to help give them a starting point, he added.

McGlinchey used the example of the Haiti earthquake in January last year. After Google posted satellite-updated images of areas affected by the devastation, people soon updated these maps which humanitarian and non-government groups, such as the United Nations, used to facilitate relief efforts, he said.


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