Google announced a partnership with the World Bank today to make Google Map Maker data more accessible to government organizations in disaster scenarios. Google Map Maker is the tool for crowd-sourcing the editing and maintenance of Google’s world map. Its user-generated data include locations of hospitals, schools, settlements, water sources and minor roads.
Access to these data will help governments, NGOs, researchers and individuals plan without waiting for the changes to be approved and added to the official maps. World Bank partner organizations, such as government and U.N. agencies, can contact World Bank offices to request access to the data. Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, Moldova, Mozambique, Nepal and Haiti will pilot the project.
Google’s New Gatekeeper
This partnership could improve response time and effectiveness in crises in underserved areas of the world. It’s just a shame that Google has decided to compete with Ushahidi and other open-source efforts to solve this problem. Access to Google Map Maker data is privileged, and Google has chosen the mother of all elite gatekeepers, the World Bank, to facilitate this program.
The World Bank has supported much-needed online mapping efforts, such as the April 2011 project in South Sudan that enabled Google to put the new country on the map. It has also financially backed apps supporting economic development in a worldwide contest for software developers. In partnership with academic institutions, the World Bank has also backed a Web-based knowledge platform for urban development.
These are all great efforts, but they establish a familiar pattern for the World Bank. In Web technology, just as in global economic development, the World Bank has positioned itself as an unavoidable, privileged gatekeeper, and this time Google helped.
Community mapper in Kampala, Uganda (via Google LatLong)
No More Open Source
We’ve reached out to Ushahidi for comment on the news, and we’ll update with the response. While Ushahidi‘s non-profit, open-source efforts carry on, Google is closing off access to its mapping platform upon which great works of software were once built. Having realized the enormous value of Google Maps as a resource, Google decided to start charging for API access last year.
That’s Google’s commercial prerogative, but its proprietary efforts are now in competition with the open-source community. Today’s partnership with the World Bank is a clearer example than the murky history of access to the Google Maps API. Google Map Maker is a moderated Google program, and Google has selected the World Bank as an arbiter of its data.
Last December, Google overhauled Map Maker’s editing tools to make it easier for any Google Maps user to add new data.
What do you think? Is the World Bank a good choice for Google as a partner? Share your thoughts in the comments.