Google mapping breaks more new ground in Iqaluit
Google continues its mapping of "the social geography of the North"
Google mapmakers are in the streets of Iqaluit this week on a project to take the most complete and accurate picture of the city that residents and visitors can find online.
When it’s finished, you’ll be able to go online to Google Maps’ Street View and take a simulated 360-degree visual tour around the city as it appears in March 2013 — similar to that now available for Cambridge Bay, which hosted a Google mapping team last August.
This week you can find Aaron Brindle, a cartographer with Google, hiking the streets of Iqaluit with his backpack camera that captures panoramic images every few steps.
The visual mapping project of Nunavut is yet another ground-breaker for cartography in northern Canada, Brindle said.
That’s because this takes another step towards giving the detailed maps of the past, which showed only raw geography, such as mountains, lakes and settlements, new information of “social” geography, like houses, businesses, parks and playgrounds.
“A lot of the mapping for the social geography of the North, it’s not great,” Brindle told Nunatsiaq News.
“We [mapmakers] have done a great job of with mapping of inlets, that sort of thing — we’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” he said, recalling Capt. James Cook who once mapped the jagged coasts of Newfoundland during the 1800s.
Although the level of detail on every inlet and bit of coastline in the Canadian North is already available on Google Earth, the maps are full of empty space otherwise.
“Our social geography, where we live, where the bank is, where the hospital is — stuff people really use maps for these days — we haven’t done a great job in the North,” he said, which is where Google Maps comes in.
The online maps are meant for people who live in Iqaluit as well as visitors.
“The way I use maps is just to make sure I can find my way to the hockey-rink tonight, and what does it look like, and ‘oh, I can stop off at the Tim Horton’s because it’s just right around the corner.’”
With that in mind, when undertaking a map exercise in a community Google encourages residents to pin down the location of businesses, houses, schools, churches and other buildings to fine-tune the maps and make them more useable.
Brindle’s Google team invited residents to do this March 20 in a workshop at Iqaluit public library where they worked with Google’s Map Maker option.
“Local people have the best information about their town, and we want them to add their knowledge to the map,” said Raleigh Seamster as she gave the session with Brindle and other team members.
This is especially useful in Iqaluit, where building-numbers, not street names and addresses, identify locations.
“Google doesn’t do a great job with building numbers,” Karin Tuxen-Bettman said at the library session. “We’re hoping that people will be able to put a building number down, so visitors can find the location.”
Beyond that, residents can add businesses, restaurants, correct street names, and even add “building outlines” to show the location of new buildings not in the photo, she said.
Like Brindle, Seamster and Tuxen-Bettman are also taking panoramic photos, but of a different kind.
They are shooting building interiors with a set of interior cameras similar to the trekker, but mounted on a tripod. The group has taken shots of the Legislative Assembly, and will do the same at a church and several businesses in town before leaving the city on March 24.
Asked about privacy concerns, Brindle said the team is only shooting from public roads and in places they have been asked to visit. Google immediately blurs license plates and faces captured in photos.
“Beyond that, when you go into Google Maps if you see anything you don’t like, there’s a ‘report a problem’ button there,” said Brindle, and the company can blur sections of photos within 24 hours.
Such problems are rare, he added.
“The reality is that we hear the opposite. It’s like ‘why didn’t you collect my house when I just freshly painted it?’ We hear a lot of that feedback, but at the same time we’re respecting people’s right to privacy and not to participate in the project.”
But Google mapping has been contentious in the United States: the company recently agreed to pay a $7 million fine for violating privacy.
The fine comes from a Street View case in which Google photographed houses but also collected personal information — such as emails, medical and financial records and passwords, the New York Times reported.
As part of the settlement, Google agreed to start informing the public about securing wireless networks and protecting personal information.