Google has published for the first time mapping information on North Korea, a country that has so far been mostly blank on the popular website Google Maps.
The data was compiled on Google’s Map Maker tool which allows ordinary people to contribute information mainly using satellite images or local knowledge.
Map data is not widely available for the reclusive nation.
Launched in 2008, Map Maker data has been migrated to Google Maps for many countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
“This effort has been active in Map Maker for a few years and today the new map of North Korea is ready and now available on Google Maps,” said Jayanth Mysore, senior product manager at Google Map Maker.
“As a result, the world can access maps of North Korea that offer much more information and detail than before.”
The move comes after a private humanitarian visit to North Korea by Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.
In the case of North Korea, satellite images, not local knowledge, were the main source of data. North Koreans cannot access Google.
Google said a large number of South Koreans contributed information to create usable maps for the North.
“While many people around the globe are fascinated with North Korea, these maps are especially important for the citizens of South Korea who have ancestral connections or still have family living there,” said Jayanth Mysore.
However, at least one contributor is from Australia, and doesn’t speak Korean.
“I wanted to go to North Korea and because it was not yet mapped I decided to start mapping so I could at least see how easy it would be to travel within the country,” said Sebastiaan van Oyen who works as a risk manager for a financial trading firm in Sydney.
Sebastiaan van Oyen explained that he used satellite images to get his data saying they “are good enough to cover the whole country, although the quality and date of the data varies”.
“For a basic map you will be fine, but it will take time to get reliable street level navigation.”
However, he said that the biggest obstacle towards creating a more detailed map was to get enough local knowledge to name all the features.
“Keep in the back of your mind that there are restricted areas and not much (readily available) local knowledge outside of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”