Today Google announced an agreement with the World Bank to make Google Map Maker source data more widely and easily available to government organisations in the event of major disasters. Under the new deal World Bank partner organisations, which include government and United Nations agencies, will be able to contact World Bank offices for access to Google Map Maker data.
Google Map Maker Pulse - watch real-time edits on Google Maps
Surprisingly some of the early comments on this new agreement, that I have read, have been very negative about the new arrangement. Personally I'm far from convinced that the World Bank is a benign organisation and I'm pretty certain that it has often had a malign influence on the economies of developing countries.
However this agreement seems to me to be solely concerned with ensuring that the latest mapping data is more easily available to aid agencies and organisations in times of major disasters. Surely, that can only be a good thing.
Read Write Web (RWW) are arguing that Google have appointed the World Bank as "the gatekeeper" of Google Map Maker data. They appear to believe that this move is part of Google's 'closing off (of) access' to its mapping platform. In particular RWW seems keen to connect this new partnership with Google's recent introduction of charges to the use of the Google Maps API.
Google Map Maker
In November I responded fairly negatively to Google's new API charges. However I'm struggling to see how these two separate announcements are connected.
RWW claim that "Google has decided to compete with Ushahidi and other open-source efforts to solve this problem (crisis mapping)". RWW seem here to misunderstand the role of crisis reporting websites like Ushahidi. Ushahidi is built upon mapping platforms such as Google Maps and Open Street Maps. For it to work well in times of major disasters then it needs access to the latest crisis mapping efforts.
With Google's new partnership with the World Bank it appears that agencies and platforms such as Ushahidi now have a clear process as to how they can begin to access the latest mapping data from Google.
In many cases of major disaster the efforts of the Open Street Map community will probably mean that the most accurate and up-to-date maps will be openly available from Open Street Map and not from Google.
Google Maps and OpenStreetMap are two entirely different platforms with different goals. Google Maps relies on more centralised control over the moderating of community map edits than OpenStreetMap (I'm not going to go into the reasons why here). This means that the data behind Google Map Maker isn't openly accessible.
This partnership with the World Bank seems to me be an effort on Google's part to provide a means to access the latest mapping data rather than attempt to close access. I for one think it should be welcomed.
(BTW - I still think Read Write Web is the best tech blog out there)