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Google fills in the blanks on North Korea map data

Crowdsourcing helps map the unmappable

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Google has announced comprehensive new mapping data on North Korea, enlisting a team of citizen cartographers to chart the country's gulags, nuclear facilities and golf courses.

The reclusive dictatorship has been one of the few areas of the world where the Chocolate Factory has not managed to poke its beak in, but thanks to its community tool Map Maker, Google has managed to map the unmappable.

Senior product manager Jayanth Mysore explained all in a blog post:

To build this map, a community of citizen cartographers came together in Google Map Maker to make their contributions such as adding road names and points of interest. 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.

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 in the closed nation.

Although detail outside the capital Pyongyang is still pretty limited, the new data adds the names of urban centres across the country as well as major roads, and goes a long way to filling in what before was often blank space.

Also included is North Korea’s infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility and several of the country’s notorious gulags.

One, the Hoeryong gulag, even features details including the “armoury”, “guards’ restroom” and “food factory”.

Map Maker involves the crowdsourcing of cartography with the help of those both inside and outside a country, although given the severe internet restrictions in North Korea, this one was compiled by those outside its borders from satellite images and other publicly available sources.

The news comes just weeks after Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt arrived in Pyongyang for a brief humanitarian visit in which he tried to persuade the secretive state to embrace a free and open internet.

Unsurprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he has succeeded. ®

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