Next on Google maps: Hospitals, roads and kiosks of Korogocho slum
11 January 2011
The East African
Nairobi: After mapping various key locations and landmarks in the country, Google is now mapping Korogocho, one of Nairobi's informal settlements. The mapping of Korogocho, an area with about 200,000 people, is meant to make it easier to identify streets, key structures and landmarks that were previously not mapped onto Google Maps. "One of the things we spend a lot of time thinking about at Google is how we can make the world's information more accessible and useful to people all over the globe. This includes providing rich local geographic data because a huge number of search queries have a geographic component," said Joe Mucheru, Google's sub-Saharan Africa leader.
The mapping is done through Google Map Maker, a tool that allows people to help create a map by adding or editing features such as roads, businesses, parks, schools. The Map Maker has been used to provide most of the Kenyan location data on Google Maps as the product allows users to locate, draw, label and provide attributes for local map features, such as roads, parks, or rivers, thereby transforming local users into "citizen cartographers."
The mapping was preceded by the training of 21 Korogocho volunteers to become cartographers who would later put their community on Google Maps while Internews Network - an international media development organisation that aims to empower local media worldwide - provided the volunteers with media skills and training.
"We only had two-and-a-half days to achieve this task but the volunteers were definitely up to the challenge. After two hours of hands-on training about the mapping tools, we embarked on mapping Korogocho and, thanks to the volunteers, they now have Korogocho on the map," said Mr Mucheru.
According to Mr Mucheru, the volunteers mapped social and health infrastructure that is important to their community, including water points and vendors, public toilets, biogas projects, schools, Adopt-a-Light locations and more.
"The aim of the mapping is to link the Korogocho community to health facilities and local community radio stations like Koch FM. This ensures that when there are health problems in the area, people can send text messages to the station; the station then gets in touch with health experts to advise people on what to do," said Leonard Njeru, one of the volunteer cartographers.
The text messaging platform is provided by FrontlineSMS, a free service that allows one to send messages to large groups of people and enables instantaneous two-way communication.
"After mapping, the information is put in the system; it is hoped that it can move to a level where it can train community health workers," said Mr Njeru, who is also a co-founder of Koch FM, one of the community-based radio stations operating in Korogocho, adding that the mapping also enables easier access to the area as it shows directions and distance.
The mapping of Korogocho follows the earlier mapping of other major towns on Google Maps. As of mid 2009, Google had detailed maps of various towns including Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, and Nakuru. The map data includes a substantial amount of user generated content provided via Google Map Maker as well as thousands of business listings for Nairobi.
"Google Maps is not just searchable digitised maps helping you to find a local place, service or product, our goal is to make information with a geographical dimension available to everyone and to allow users to update the maps and develop on top of them. We believe more accurate, representative local information can greatly improve the breadth of information available about a given area and in turn help efforts to bolster tourism and business investment," noted Mr Mucheru, adding that maps are also invaluable to governments, NGOs, universities and entrepreneurs, who can visualise, plan and market the areas and projects that they work on.
Google Maps in Kenya can be viewed in several ways, with the Map button showing the traditional map view, ideal for finding an address or planning directions from one point to the next. To explore features and locations in more detail, users can choose the satellite button, which includes satellite and aerial photographs. The terrain view shows the physical geography of a place.
Keywords: ICT, service delivery, governance, Kenya