Schmidt’s Visit Leads to Inclusion of North Korea on Google Maps

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By Vittorio Hernandez | January 30, 2013 10:47 AM EST

Google Maps have recently released an update containing a detailed map of the isolated country, North Korea. The update was released three weeks after the visit of Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, to Pyongyang.

According to Google, "Creating maps is a crucial first step towards helping people access more information about parts of the world that are unfamiliar to them."

Before, the map of North Korea was only an outline of a white blank with only little information about the country in Google Maps, but now, streets, prison camps, hotels, and monuments are added after eight years of Google Maps launch.

Information about the new map of North Korea comes from collective contributions of people who are interested in the country under a Google development program called Map Maker. The program is a collaborative effort that has become known as crowdsourcing.

Google has relied on "citizen cartographers" to help create maps in 150 countries and made huge contributions in areas where governments have done little mapping.

North Korea watchers think that this new map may allow North Koreans to learn more about their own country which can be accessed from a computer or a mobile device.

But due to the current state of the isolated country, some North Koreans can only gain access to international media by purchasing smuggled DVDs or Chinese cellular phones which are all strictly prohibited.

In addition, the Internet access in North Korea is highly limited to a handful of Web sites that are almost fully controlled by the government. In his visit, Mr Schmidt encouraged North Korea to embrace the Internet soon.

An example of this very controlled Internet access is the sole Internet café in the capital city of Pyongyang uses a North Korean custom-built operating system called the Red Star. Web Sites such as Faster Korea for North Korean sports, Friend.com.kp for North Korea's Committee for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, and Air Koryo as the official home of North Korea's airline are available to access.

The efforts and updates of the Google Maps indicate hopes for North Koreans who have defected to South Korea to check their former homes, places, and even relatives to fulfill their life-long dream of reunification with their relatives they left behind.

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