Google puts North Korea on the map

CHICO HARLAN
Last updated 15:23 30/01/2013
North Korea google maps

MAPPED OUT: The North Korean capital Pyongyang.

SlideshowNorth Korea on Google maps


View Larger Map

Relevant offers

World

Eight killed in shootings at three homes in Mississippi, US police say With Donald Trump, what you see is not only what you get; it's also all you get South African police pelt men with the apples they allegedly stole Experts warn of proceeds-of-crime risks as Schapelle Corby starts new life Survivors of Christian bus attack in Egypt recount horror as men who refused to convert to Islam were killed Emmanuel Macron says Donald Trump handshake was 'moment of truth' UK police arrest 14th person in connection with Manchester bombing Bodies of civilians dumped near Philippines city besieged by Islamists Death toll from Sri Lanka floods keeps climbing, hits 151 Britain says some of Manchester bomber's network potentially still at large

Until today, North Korea appeared on Google Maps as a near-total white space - no roads, no train lines, no parks and no restaurants. The only thing labelled was the capital city, Pyongyang.

This all changed when Google rolled out a detailed map of one of the world's most secretive states.

The new map labels everything from Pyongyang's subway stops to the country's several city-sized gulags, as well as its monuments, hotels, hospitals and department stores.

According to a Google blog post, the maps were created by a group of volunteer "citizen cartographers," through an interface known as Google Map Maker.

That programme - much like Wikipedia - allows users to submit their own data, which is then fact-checked by other users, and sometimes altered many times over. Similar processes were used in other once-unmapped countries like Afghanistan and Myanmar.

In the case of North Korea, those volunteers worked from outside of the country, beginning from 2009.

They used information that was already public, compiling details from existing analogue maps, satellite images, or other web-based materials.

Much of the information was already available on the internet, said Hwang Min-woo, 28, a volunteer mapmaker from Seoul who worked for two years on the project.

North Korea was the last country virtually unmapped by Google, but other - even more detailed - maps of the North existed before this.

Most notable is a map created by Curtis Melvin, who runs the North Korea Economy Watch blog and spent years identifying thousands of landmarks in the North: tombs, textile factories, film studios, even rumoured spy training locations. Melvin's map is available as a downloadable Google Earth file.

Google's map is important, though, because it is so readily accessible.

The map is unlikely to have an immediate influence in the North, where internet use is restricted to all but a handful of elites.

But it could prove beneficial for outsider analysts and scholars, providing an easy-to-access record about North Korea's provinces, roads, landmarks, as well as hints about its many unseen horrors.

In the country's northeast, for instance, Google has labelled what it calls the Hwasong Gulag. One street, called Gulag 16 Road, cuts through it. And at the end of Gulag 16 Road is a train station. Beyond that, little else around the gulag is marked.

The map's publication comes just weeks after the visit to North Korea of Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, who toured the country in a series of highly staged encounters that included a stop at a computer library, which Schmidt's daughter later described in a blog post as the "e-Potemkin Village."

Schmidt's visit was unrelated to the map roll-out, a Google spokesman said.

Google, in its blog post about the new North Korea map, acknowledged that the information is "not perfect".

"We encourage people from around the world to continue helping us improve the quality of these maps for everyone," Google said.

Melvin quickly spotted a mistake in Google's version.

Ad Feedback

Google's map shows a golf course on Yanggak Island, on a river that curves through Pyongyang.

But Melvin, citing recent photographs from tourists, said the golf course no longer exists.

- Washington Post

Comments

Special offers

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content