If you were planning a vacation to North Korea last week, a peek into the country via Google Maps would have revealed, well, nothing. Pyongyang, the capital, appeared as a blank stretch of off-white, broken only by the blue tendrils of the Taedong river. Seemingly overnight, however, the country modernized. Now, Google Maps depicts highways, roads and train stops clustering around the capital, while larger roads lead out into the once seemingly unbroken wilderness of the country’s northern stretches.
Google explains how they broke this formerly virgin frontier:
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. 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. As a result, the world can access maps of North Korea that offer much more information and detail than before.
We know this map is not perfect — one of the exciting things about maps is that the world is a constantly changing place. We encourage people from around the world to continue helping us improve the quality of these maps for everyone with Google Map Maker. From this point forward, any further approved updates to the North Korean maps in Google Map Maker will also appear on Google Maps.
Taking a more philosophical look at the accomplishment, Google points out that map-making is a crucial step towards helping people understand places they are unfamiliar with. More practically, South Koreans who have family still living in North Korea may legitimately need to know where roads and towns are located.
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