Google has just announced the latest class of countries to graduate from Google Map Maker and become full-fledged citizens of Google Maps. Map Maker allows "citizen cartographers" to add details like little roads, businesses and geographic features to parts of the world that Google's staff can't easily reach.

Today's announcement incorporates community contributions from a bunch of new countries, territories, and even an entire continents into the live Google map. The graduates are: Afghanistan, Antarctica, Ecuador, Georgia, Guatemala, Heard Island and McDonald Islands, Honduras, Iraq, Norfolk Island, Saint Pierre & Miquelon and Saudi Arabia.

Kabul, Afghanistan before and after graduation

Google has strained under the weight of mapping the entire wold. After launching Map Maker to crowdsource the effort in 2008, it has steadily increased the importance of community contributions. In April, Google opened Map Maker in the U.S., a tacit admission that it can't map all the locations and businesses itself, even in the world's most wired places.

In September, the Google LatLong team even shifted some of the Map Maker approval process onto Regional Expert Reviewers from the community, rather than having staff moderate all changes.

Time-lapse video of updates for Baghdad, Iraq

The system has shown signs of strain. It took the Google Maps team two months to recognize South Sudan's independence, despite a clamoring community. But Google has pressed forward with its effort to expand the global importance of Maps. In August, 40 new countries received localized top-level domains for Google Maps.

As curating Maps becomes a worldwide effort, crowd contributions from Map Maker will only become more important. Today's large crop of graduates is a recognition of great work by a community of volunteers around the world.

Time-lapse video of updates for Tblisi, Georgia

Congratulations to the graduates!

For more before-after photos and videos, check out the Google LatLong Blog.