Online Maps---Petaluma to Peshawar and Kashmir

After painfully watching the heartbreaking scenes of carnage in Pakistani provincial capital of NWFP on TV screens, it came as a pleasant surprise to see the New York Times mention Peshawar in a different context; volunteer cartographers contributing to digital maps "from Petaluma to Peshawar". It particularly caught my attention because I have had the pleasure of visiting both of these fine cities, and I currently live not too far from the one in California.

"From Petaluma to Peshawar, these amateurs are arming themselves with GPS devices and easy-to-use software to create digital maps where none were available before, or fixing mistakes and adding information to existing ones", said the NY Times, referring to the volunteer mapmakers contributing to digital maps offered by Google, OpenStreetMaps and others. While both Google and OpenStreetMaps are community created, the main difference between the two is that OpenStreetMap provides its map data under a Creative Commons license and the maps created by users of Google Map Maker are the intellectual property of Google.

Open Street Map (OSM) is a geo project that lets anyone update it. Volunteers donate time and energy uploading GPS tracks, building supporting software, and editing the core data. OSM is growing quickly. As an open data project, OSM makes its data freely available to anyone. This enables custom mapping applications like the OSM Cycle Map. It is also being used commercially by a real estate site Nestoria and by VC-funded startup Cloudmade.

Google Maps has varying levels of coverage of the entire globe (as do its competitors like Microsoft Bing Maps and Yahoo! Maps). Most of the data that is used by Google Maps and displayed comes from Tele Atlas (owned by TomTom) and NAVTEQ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Nokia). More than year ago Google released the ability to move addresses or add a new place. With this feature any logged in user can make an edit; you can even watch the edits in a realtime viewer. If your change is accepted it will show up in Google Maps. Road geometry and address changes derived from Tele Atlas data will be sent back to Tele Atlas to help improve its information. The updated data will eventually make it into new-owner Tomtom's GPSs and potentially Google's competitors who also use Tele Atlas. The data collected via MapMaker will not be shared with Tele Atlas.

Google is gradually dropping its dependence on the traditional commercial map vendors like TeleAtlas and Navteq. Instead, it is relying on unpaid volunteers to create digital maps of 140 countries, including India, Pakistan and the Philippines, that are more complete than many maps created professionally. One such volunteer mentioned in the NY Times story is Faraz Ahmad, a 26-year-old programmer from Pakistan who now lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He took one look at the map of India and decided he did not want to see his native Pakistan left behind by its traditional rival. So he began mapping Pakistan in his free time, using information from friends, family and existing maps. Faraz Ahmad is now the top contributor to Google Map Maker, logging more than 41,000 changes.

India-Pakistan rivalry took on a new dimension when Faraz tried to work on Azad Kashmir, and he found that Map Maker wouldn’t allow it. He said his contributions were finally accepted by the Map Maker team, which is led by engineers based in India, but only after a long e-mail exchange.

At his request, Google is now preventing further changes to the disputed region, after people in India tried to make it part of their country, Faraz told the NY Times. “Whenever you have a Pakistani and an Indian doing something together, there is a political discussion or dispute.”

In addition to Faraz, there is a whole community of Pakistani volunteer programmers and mapmakers currently adding roads, streets, businesses, crossings and various points of interest (POIs) for areas for which there are no maps defined yet. Then other users approve or disapprove the additions and changes. Eventually, the maps are posted to Google maps and Google maps mobile. Fairly detailed Google maps for mobile are available today for Pakistan. Such searchable, navigable and routable digital maps are expected to help grow real estate, travel, transportation, retail, financial services, healthcare and emergency services and other service sectors.

The reason why mobile maps have come first is because of the large user base of about 80-90 million mobile phone subscribers. Pakistan has a vast data network over GSM/GPRS/EDGE and EVDO and there are no alternative street navigation systems, with the exception of fairly expensive car navigation systems costing tens of thousands of rupees. Google has a database of cell Towers in Pakistan, and with the help of these towers it identifies the location of the user in real time, within about 10 to 20 meters and sometimes up to 3000 to 4000 meters, depending upon the density of cell towers in a given area. If the mobile phone has data service enabled, the user can download the Google mobile map application from After downloading the application and installing it, it is available in the applications folder of the mobile phone.

A number of GPS enthusiasts have also developed Garmin compatible navigation maps for Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar and a few other cities in Pakistan. But it's rare to see car navigation systems in Pakistan.

As painful as it is to watch the constant media coverage of blood and terror in the streets of Pakistan, the NY Times story of volunteer cartographers and the recent Karachi Fashion Week illustrate that there is more to Pakistan than meets the eyes or reaches the ears of the passive consumers of the western and Pakistani news media.

I am glad that there are enough volunteer programmers and amateur cartographers in Pakistan to attempt to build detailed digital maps and maintain them in their spare time--without the assistance of commercial vendors like Tele Atlas and Navteq who did the same for North America and Europe at huge costs. The main contribution of the government under President Musharraf was to invest in the growth of the telecommunications, higher education, and the Internet infrastructure, a pre-requisite for online volunteer collaboration in projects such as map making. It shows what the Pakistani people are capable of doing with just a little help, in spite of the continuing institutional failures in Pakistan. As I have said before, and I repeat here again, it is better to light a candle than curse darkness.

Here's a video clip explaining Google Maps for mobile:

Related Links:

Life Goes On in Pakistan

Pakistan's Multi-billion Dollar IT Industry

Routable Maps of Karachi, Pakistan

Online Maps: Everyman Offers New Directions

Mapping Pakistan

Digitizing Pakistan

Google Maps Come to Pakistan

EVDO Pakistan

GPS Automotive Navigation in Pakistan

SatNav in Pakistan

Pakistan Cartography Wiki Project

Light a Candle, Do Not Curse Darkness


Riaz Haq said…
Here's WSJ blog on Indian claims to Kashmir:

OK, so everyone knows that India, like Pakistan, claims the divided region of Kashmir in its entirety.

Everyone also knows that the seven-decade stalemate that has split the Himalayan territory between India- and Pakistan-administered portions is unlikely to change any time soon.

So, why does India get so upset every time a government, company or international body fails on a map of the region, however small, to show India’s territorial claims over the Pakistan-administered portion of Kashmir?
India’s Ministry of External Affairs lamented the “gross inaccuracies” in the map and said it had conveyed its displeasure to the Embassy. The whole of Kashmir is an “integral part” of India, it said, and maps “should depict the boundaries of our country correctly.”

It’s one thing for a customs official insisting on black-penning the Indian version of the border onto a child’s imported globe (yes, this happened.) But for it to reach the level of official, public MEA statements is absurd.

India has become increasingly militant over its cartographic claims. Editions of The Economist magazine, including the current one, have been held up by Indian customs over objections they showed the effective borders in Kashmir rather than only India’s claims.

Why India believes other countries and international publications must show its territorial claims and not the situation on the ground is unclear, and not matched by how map-makers deal with other disputed borders.

Take the 38th Parallel, for instance, the cease-fire line that has divided the Korean peninsula since 1945. Fighting between North and South Korea ended in 1953, but the border has never been formalized. Yet South Korea doesn’t yell publicly when Google Inc.’s maps show the 38th Parallel as the nation’s effective border with North Korea.

When Google did the same thing with India last year, showing its de facto rather than claimed border with Pakistan-administered Kashmir, it caused a furor here. (Google relented and, today, if you access its maps in India, you’ll confusingly see India sharing a border with Afghanistan, which might be India’s claim but is not reality.)

It is now customary to mark a map of Kashmir with dotted lines with labels that say “controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India” and “controlled by India and claimed by Pakistan.” (China controls a part which is claimed by India, but that’s another story.)

But the U.S. State Department map, part of an A-Z of thumbnail sketches of countries with whom America has diplomatic relations, was by no means meant to show this level of detail.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi acknowledged there were “inaccuracies” and said the State Department had removed the map. But he added it “was not meant to represent the same precision and intricacies of a scientific map.”

There was much gnashing of teeth in the Indian press. One Times of India report even went so far as to claim these cartographic missteps are starting to anger not only officials but also journalists.

It’s clear that India will have to move beyond this kind of petty griping if it’s going to take the lead in a peace deal with Pakistan, an unstable country that is fast losing the support of the U.S.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has made peace with Pakistan a key plank of his administration, and a settlement on Kashmir will be key.
Brahma Chellaney, an analyst at the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, contacted by the Times of India, went as far as to say the map showed a “pro-Pakistan cartographic tilt.”....
Riaz Haq said…
Here's a piece on proposed Pak legislation to ban private maps:

The government of Pakistan is about to propose a law that would make it illegal for independent bodies to engage in mapping. The Land Surveying and Mapping Bill 2012, proposed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), transfers all mapping authority in Pakistan to Survey of Pakistan (SoP), which reports to the MoD and takes its orders from General Head Quarters (GHQ).

SoP is the national organization responsible for surveying and mapping requirements of the Armed Forces and civilian departments — in that respect, at least, its origins are similar to those of the United Kingdom's Ordnance Survey. Over the past decade, however, the advent of computer-aided cartography and the availability of satellite imagery have radically changed the realm of maps and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Easy access to this kind of technology has helped individuals and organizations to support their own efforts at social and relief work.

For instance, after the floods of 2010 that devastated huge swathes of the country, relief workers created and used their own mapping resources to allocate aid efforts more effectively, thus saving many lives.

This year Umar Saif, MIT Technology Review’s Innovators Under 35 award winner, used mapping technology to detect the spread of Dengue fever in Lahore. Early detection prevented the virus from becoming an epidemic.

The Punjab government initiated an Innovation Punjab campaign with the help of Google. The campaign brings inexpensive Internet access to rural youth, with the goal of empowering the next generation of tech innovators.

During the 2010 crisis, several NGOs and relief workers mapped information using Ushahidi. If the proposed bill is passed, Google Maps and Ushahidi would be banned from Pakistan. All the hard work invested by local and international relief workers, volunteers and organizations would be in vain.

The MoD's position is that in the absence of a national law and regulatory authority for mapping, it is impossible to keep a check on unlawful activities — especially in sensitive areas. They claim that the purpose of the poposed bill is to limit potential risks to sensitive information — to prevent duplicate mapping, which they say would be a financial burden for the state and to transform the SoP into a national mapping agency. Since mapping data can be obtained easily from non-governmental sources, this undermines the logic of the MoD's case. There is also the question of whether a ban on mapping can prevent "unlawful activities in sensitive areas."

Online maps and satellite imagery, GPS-enabled devices and in-car navigation are all easily accessible in Pakistan.

If the bill passes in to law, the SoP will be the regulatory body controlling all mapping activities. Any other body wishing to create a map will have to apply for permission to do so — and can expect to have their activities and their outputs controlled as a result.

The bill also assigns responsibility for various parts of the mapping infrastructure (such as survey markers) to regional and district administrative bodies. Those who remember the woeful ineffectiveness of those bodies during the floods of 2010 may wonder whether such a transfer is either wise or practical. In addition to installing itself as the single point of control for all mapping activity, the MoD will also delegate to the Pakistan Army responsibility for enforcing the bill.

Thus, we have the MoD undertaking to do something it did not do before, the local administrations having to do things they did not do before, and the Army having to keep track of it all on the ground. ....
Riaz Haq said…
Assange believes #Google is an extension US govt and instrument of US Policy. …

From Newsweek by Julian Assange of Wikileaks:

It was at this point that I realized Eric Schmidt might not have been an emissary of Google alone. Whether officially or not, he had been keeping some company that placed him very close to Washington, D.C., including a well-documented relationship with President Obama. Not only had Hillary Clinton’s people known that Eric Schmidt’s partner had visited me, but they had also elected to use her as a back channel.

While WikiLeaks had been deeply involved in publishing the inner archive of the U.S. State Department, the U.S. State Department had, in effect, snuck into the WikiLeaks command center and hit me up for a free lunch. Two years later, in the wake of his early 2013 visits to China, North Korea and Burma, it would come to be appreciated that the chairman of Google might be conducting, in one way or another, “back-channel diplomacy” for Washington. But at the time it was a novel thought.

I put it aside until February 2012, when WikiLeaks—along with over thirty of our international media partners—began publishing the Global Intelligence Files: the internal email spool from the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor. One of our stronger investigative partners—the Beirut-based newspaper Al Akhbar— scoured the emails for intelligence on Jared Cohen.

The people at Stratfor, who liked to think of themselves as a sort of corporate CIA, were acutely conscious of other ventures that they perceived as making inroads into their sector. Google had turned up on their radar. In a series of colorful emails they discussed a pattern of activity conducted by Cohen under the Google Ideas aegis, suggesting what the “do” in “think/do tank” actually means.

Cohen’s directorate appeared to cross over from public relations and “corporate responsibility” work into active corporate intervention in foreign affairs at a level that is normally reserved for states. Jared Cohen could be wryly named Google’s “director of regime change.”

According to the emails, he was trying to plant his fingerprints on some of the major historical events in the contemporary Middle East. He could be placed in Egypt during the revolution, meeting with Wael Ghonim, the Google employee whose arrest and imprisonment hours later would make him a PR-friendly symbol of the uprising in the Western press. Meetings had been planned in Palestine and Turkey, both of which—claimed Stratfor emails—were killed by the senior Google leadership as too risky.

Looking for something more concrete, I began to search in WikiLeaks’ archive for information on Cohen. State Department cables released as part of Cablegate reveal that Cohen had been in Afghanistan in 2009, trying to convince the four major Afghan mobile phone companies to move their antennas onto U.S. military bases. In Lebanon, he quietly worked to establish an intellectual and clerical rival to Hezbollah, the “Higher Shia League.” And in London he offered Bollywood movie executives funds to insert anti-extremist content into their films, and promised to connect them to related networks in Hollywood.


If the future of the Internet is to be Google, that should be of serious concern to people all over the world—in Latin America, East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, the former Soviet Union and even in Europe—for whom the Internet embodies the promise of an alternative to U.S. cultural, economic, and strategic hegemony.

A “don’t be evil” empire is still an empire.

Extracted from When Google Met Wikileaks by Julian Assange published by OR Books. Newsweek readers can obtain a 20 percent discount on the cover price when ordering from the OR Books website and including the offer code word NEWSWEEK.
Riaz Haq said…
#Google launches turn-by-turn voice navigation for #Android #smartphones in #Pakistan …

Google has finally launched its turn-by-turn navigation system for Pakistan allowing users to get directions for a selected route in the form of vocal and visual instructions.

The feature is currently only accessible for beta users and can be accessed on any Android phone.

Based on real-time location, the navigation system will now enable users to get automatic guidance and turn-by-turn details through voice commands.

Take a look at the world’s secret sites on Google Earth

The previous system available on Google Store had only the basic features with an automated voice guidance missing. With a vast improvement to the new app, the phone screen will remain lit after navigation is launched and voice guidance will also alert users about upcoming turns and traffic.

Should the user make a wrong turn, the navigation system will automatically alert the driver. Although this feature is already in place in many countries, it is new for Pakistan.

Google Maps guides travellers offline

Users can download the latest software from Google Store which will be activated with any internet connection or WiFi.

Motorists believe this new feature could be extremely useful and could guide users about real time changes in routes and traffic — a major breakthrough for the country.
Riaz Haq said…
Cartographers beware: #India warns of $15 million fine for maps it doesn't like. #Kashmir #Pakistan #China #Modi

Let's start with a basic fact: India claims much more land than it controls.

Thus, any map of India and its neighbors makes an inherently political statement based on how it depicts their borders. The issue is particularly thorny because the border disputes are with India's great rivals: Pakistan and China.

On Thursday, a draft law reflecting India's sensitivity over maps was uploaded by the government online before being swiftly removed for reasons unknown. The draft law would define how India's international borders are drawn once and for all, and punish offenders with up to seven years in jail or fines ranging from $150,000 to $15 million. It would also require all individuals and companies producing maps in India, and all Indian citizens doing so globally, to procure a license from the government.

Pakistan and India both claim jurisdiction over the entirety of Jammu and Kashmir, an area that spans fertile plains, lush foothills, towering Himalayan mountains and the alpine barrens of the Tibetan Plateau. It is also the theater of India and Pakistan's defining conflict, which has led to three wars and once brought the subcontinent surprisingly close to the verge of mutual nuclear annihilation. Both nations occupy parts of Kashmir and station hundreds of thousands of troops there, mostly along the incredibly tense Line of Control (LoC) that serves as the de facto border.

China also claims — and controls — a sizable chunk of (what was once) Kashmir known as Aksai Chin, which it subsumed after handily defeating India in a 1962 war. The border there is slightly more definitive, which is reflected in the name India uses for it: the Line of Actual Control (LAC). China also claims almost all of another Indian state called Arunachal Pradesh, which stretches between Bhutan and Myanmar. China refers to it as "South Tibet." India administers the state, and Chinese incursions are very rare.

The map that India wants the world to see, of course, bestows it all these disputed regions. If it actually becomes law, it would certainly complicate the operations of technology companies that rely on maps, such as Google and Uber. Already, Google shows different borders to users in different countries. From the United States, India's disputed borders are shown on the website as dotted lines.
Riaz Haq said…
#Pakistan’s first homemade #Digital Mapping Solution to be launched. #Telenor

Telenor Pakistan and TPL Trakker have joined hands to introduce Pakistan’s first homemade digital mapping solution.

According to local media reports, a Memorendum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the two tech firms, under which TPL Maps has been launched. “TPL Maps has been created using state of the art technology that will not only provide real time intelligent routing but also give users access to live traffic updates, turn-by-turn navigation and smart search options,” said the app description on Telenor Apps.

The app features smart search option that has over 1.35 million Points of Interests (POIs) which allows users to reach their desired destination by choosing the POIs from across Pakistan. The homemade TPL Maps covers over 500 cities and 800,000 distinct housing addresses, which are spread over a road network of 280,000 km.

Whereas, the Pakistani made TPL Maps also includes 2D models of over 55,000 POIs which helps users identify and reach their desired location in the shortest time period possible.

“We have developed Pakistan’s first comprehensive digital mapping solution via Pakistani talent and resources because we believe a localize, in depth mapping solution for Pakistan will define the future of digital payments, ecommerce, 3G/ 4G and social networking activities. TPL Maps, equipped with smart features, will offer services that will change the future of consumer behavior, navigation, distribution process management, advertising and many other areas alongside navigation and maps related services,” said Ali Jameel, CEO TPLTrakker.

The maps app allows any smart phone carrier to choose the best route on the back of latest navigation technology and thorough traffic information, which provides accurate, real-time traffic information from over 200,000 GPS equipped vehicles.

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