Google has shut down Google Map Maker. A support page went up over the weekend declaring that Map Maker is closed but that “many of its features are being integrated into Google Maps.”
Map Maker was a Wikipedia-style Map editing service that launched in 2008. The site created a sandbox version of Google Maps and gave users powerful editing tools, allowing them to build roads, terrain, landmarks, and buildings from scratch. The edits were sent to a moderation queue, and if the community members deemed the edits to be correct, they were pushed to the production version of Google Maps.
While Google notes that it has “started to graduate functionality from Map Maker to Google Maps on both desktop and mobile,” for now there is a huge functionality gap between Google Maps and Map Maker. Maps has several “editing” features to change existing content but none of the “build it from scratch” features of Map Maker.
While the map creation tools were great for new construction and creating more detailed maps, Map Maker was most valuable in countries that didn’t have great maps to begin with. Check out Google Map Maker’s old YouTube page, which has several time lapse videos of people in countries like India creating detailed local maps from basically nothing. Google Map Maker users even virtually infiltrated North Korea using satellite imagery and other photos to map out landmarks, roads, and gulags in the secretive country. It seems “Mapping the rest of the world” was the primary purpose of Map Maker. It was one of the few Google products to not debut in the US, only arriving in Google’s home country a whopping three years after launch.
Like Wikipedia, Map Maker has had its share of problems sorting out correct, well-meaning edits from malicious ones. In 2015, the service was temporarily shut down due to vandalism. During the shutdown, Google said that the current moderation process was overloaded, noting that “every edit you make is essentially going to a backlog that is growing very fast.”
It seems moderation is still a primary concern with Maps edits. For the new editing features that have been integrated into Google Maps, Google’s new strategy appears to be limit the more advanced editing features to more active users. The “Google Local Guides” program awards Google Maps users points for leaving reviews and adding pictures, and various levels in the program unlock new perks from Google. Last month, Google Maps gained the ability to edit road segments—a feature of Map Maker—but rather than roll it out to everyone, it was limited to Local Guides that were “Level 3” and above. Fewer editors means a smaller moderation queue. And in the road editing announcement post, Google promised that it was “continuing to develop great moderation experiences.”
In the meantime, lots of Google Maps competitors still have publically available editing tools. OpenStreetMap launched four years before Map Maker, and it’s probably where Google got the idea. Here Maps has a map editor, too. Neither really compares to the ubiquitous Google Maps, though, especially when it comes to the all-important smartphone app. The world has not finished changing and being mapped, so hopefully Google Map’s editing tools come back in some form soon.