Google Releases Detailed Map Of North Korea, Complete With Gulags, Monuments, And More

By Alexandra Burlacu email: | Jan 29, 2013 11:57 AM EST

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Up until now, North Korea appeared as a near-total white blob on Google Maps, with only the capital city of Pyongyang labeled, but that has changed. Google has now announced it has a new mapping data on North Korea, and this time it's quite comprehensive.

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The company enlisted a team of citizen cartographers to chart the country's nuclear facilities, gulags, monuments, and even golf courses. North Korea has been one of the few locations of the world where the search giant had not managed to squeeze itself in. Now, however, its community tool Map Maker has allowed Google to finally map the previously-unmappable.

"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," senior product manager Jayanth Mysore explained in a company blog post. "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."

Google still has limited details on North Korea, barring the capital Pyongyang, but the new data does add the names of the country's urban centers, as well as major roads. Overall, it is a major step forward compared to the previously available data.

North Korea's infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility also enriches the new mapping data along with several of the nation's gulags. The hoeryong gulag, for instance, even details the "armoury," "guards' restroom," and "food factory."

Simply put, Map Maker relies on crowdsourcing cartography with the help of people both inside and outside a country. However, given North Korea's strict Internet restrictions, this Map Maker was compiled from satellite images and other publicly available resources by people outside the borders.

The announcement of an extended map of North Korea comes just weeks after Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt visited Pyongyang for a brief humanitarian mission, trying to convince the reclusive dictatorship to embrace a free and open Internet. It doesn't seem like Schmidt had any success with his mission, but that hardly comes as a surprise.

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