Google Map Maker Community and FAST-NU’s ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) hosted an event on mapping and scope of mapping in Pakistan. The event named Lahore Mapping Party was first of its kind in Pakistan and was held in FAST NU’s main auditorium last week on Saturday.
As opposed to what I had expected, the attendees were only a few in numbers and were mainly comprised of students, professors, IT professionals, and people having a background in geography/architecture studies.
Reason of the event cum workshop was to actually aware & train people about Google Map Maker, host a discussion on crowd-sourced mapping and how local/international companies/organizations are using it and what is its scope in Pakistan.
Another reason was to acknowledge the efforts of two Pakistani youngsters who are recognized as the top mappers in the world. Faraz Ahmad with more than 48,000 edits holds the 1st place whereas; Jabran Rafique with more than 44,000 edits is also in the list of top mappers in the world. And also, to celebrate that Lahore is the fastest mapped city in a total of 120 countries where Google Map Maker service is available, and Islamabad is the cleanest mapped city (there’s not even a single error in mapping).
The whole idea is to promote this activity and involve others as well to be a part of Google Map Maker community in Pakistan.
Well when Google launched this Map Maker tool for Pakistan, I also did some mapping just to get my hands on what Google Map Maker is and does it really work or not. I made maps and it was fun playing with the tool quiet a year ago but I stopped doing it because I had some serious security and privacy reservations. This concern was one of the main reasons why I was so eager to attend this event.
Badar Khushnood, the country representative for Google, presented an overview explaining what Google Map Maker tool can do and how companies are leveraging it to promote their business and how can others use it in different other ways to promote different services or even play with APIs to make their own layers over the Google Maps platform.
Badar’s presentation was followed by Faraz Ahmed’s presentation in which he gave the live demo of map maker with other team members and shared his experience that how and why he started mapping on Google Map Maker. Then the floor was opened for questions and the discussion heated up over the security risks involved in mapping local areas.
Four main topics which were in discussion were security, ethics, profitability and ownership. Everyone had something to say and for me it turned out to be a healthy brainstorming session.
Security remained the main topic of discussion. Due to the growing security risks and threats in Pakistan it is natural for Pakistanis to make sure that they are not risking their own security. Some of the attendees were of the view that it will actually facilitate the extremists to make more sophisticated terrorist attacks against locals or law enforcement forces. The threats are not only from within the country but from over the borders as well. So the security issues must be addressed to clear the situation.
Others were quite optimistic about this tool. The map maker supporters responded that this tool will in fact help the government to take better security measures and to plan strategies to curb terrorism in the country (Think about having a security plan for Lahore keeping an eye on its entrance and exit points).
As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that most of the officials are really optimized to use such tools in a way that it helps in curbing terrorism and crime. But in any case if it is going to help those extremists, Google Map Maker is not a good omen for Pakistan.
Ethics in mapping is related to the security issues. It includes what to map and what not to map. Think of places like army bases in Pakistan, nuclear sites, borders, and other areas which may fall under national security.
First of all, I believe if it has to be mapped, then it must be everything; whether in Pakistan or in any country of the world. There should be no discrimination over security concerns at international level. Like if Pakistan army bases are to be mapped then why not American and Indian army bases as well.
It is nearly impossible to moderate each and everything being mapped. So, if there has to be a policy, the questions arise are who is responsible or have the authority to decide what is ethical and what is unethical? How many stake holders are there and how can all of them come to a consensus over a uniform policy for mapping Pakistan?
Usually governments regulate the policies regarding national issues and in case of Pakistan if government didn’t pay any attention timely, it would have been too late to make a policy. By government’s involvement I do not mean that there should be restrictions to mapping at all but government can work in conjunction with Google and supervise the process so that it remains beneficial and secure for everyone.
Profitability & Ownership
The point was raised by Dr. Anis Siddiqui, Chairman Department of Architecture, University of the Punjab, that who has the ultimate ownership of the data being produced voluntarily by the people. He was of the view that Google should have some revenue model for the people for doing the mapping because it needs resources and time which are valuable and this value must be converted in some sort of reward for them.
I believe if we ignore the security and ethics part, the value for the effort being put by these freelancers is much more than the effort itself. Imagine where you can use this tool to help you or your business. Think your PTCL’s limited 1217 directory converted and mapped on your screen with more comprehensive and updated information (Local Business Listings – where you find business around you), try finding your house on Naksha.pk, see whether Wateen’s coverage is provided in your area, imagine getting traffic updates in real time, find a gas station near you, measure distance between your house and the nearest police station, get driving details to your destination and a hell lot of other things…
I would like to refer to the efforts put in by Khurram, Asst. Professor FAST-NU and Sarah Ahmad, lecturer Beaconhouse National University for presenting the possible ideas where Google Maps can be used. Updated local info, a new life to businesses, cheap & quick, SMS based white pages, value of getting info quickly, preservation data, geo coding & reverse urban planning, planning and Policy making help in generating demographics, housing variables, income statistics, economic zones and activity etc… were some of the directions presented by Khurram and Sarah.
I believe, if it actually matures enough to a point that we can use it for any product, it will prove a milestone in business and even it may change the way we do business today. I bet corporations have better plans and ideas to develop leverage Google Map Maker API.
Now about ownership, off course Google owns the data and they have the power to turn it off any time they want (you agree to terms & conditions before using their tool… try reading it). But Google provides an opportunity to download the maps to your local machine. In case if you want to volunteer but not for Google, there are a lot of other options to go for where you can help some non for profit foundation in mapping the whole world.
A Case Study
As I said earlier, I had serious privacy issues regarding Google Map Maker and that’s why I stopped using it. But I realized a much better use of this tool when I got the following message from my teacher. Please refer to the image below. It’s about three weeks ago and its self explanatory.
The areas I mapped some months ago helped my teacher finding an examination center. And this conversation happened about two weeks before Lahore Mapping Party.
In the end, I would like to finish saying that its all up to how any thing is used. It can equally be used for something constructive and for something destructive. So instead of just opposing it, I think we can volunteer to use this tool in a way that best suits our interests; both in terms of security and in terms of business.
Google Map Maker for Pakistan: will you SUPPORT it or OPPOSE it?