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Google's North Korea map is its most detailed yet


Google's new map of Pyongyang. The company has updated its data on the whole of North Korea to include dozens of roads, place names and landmarks.

Our picture of North Korea just got clearer, thanks to a new Google Map.

Live online from Tuesday, the map shows dozens of streets, place names and landmarks where previously there were only blanks.

You can even find some of North Korea's infamous forced labor camps, like the Yodok gulag in South Hamgyong province or the vast Hwasong gulag in North Hamgyong. (Several wags have already added their own "user reviews.")

It's not the first or even the most detailed picture of North Korea (see the DPRK Digital Atlas or North Korea Uncovered, for instance), but it's arguably the most accessible – and certainly the highest-profile.

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GlobalPost Senior Correspondent in Seoul Geoffrey Cain said the new Google map is mostly a triumph for open source in the digital age.

"Two decades ago this information would have mainly been available only to governments with high-tech satellites," he said.

The new map is the fruit of several years of collaboration with "citizen cartographers" via Google's crowdsourced Map Maker, according to a company blog post.

It's highly unlikely anyone contributed while actually in North Korea, though, since the secretive country is almost entirely cut off from the web.

Instead, the Guardian said, the bulk of the new information comes from satellite images, many of them provided by South Koreans.

"I thought if I could fill in information on North Korea, it might be useful in an emergency or a tragedy if Google can provide a map for aid agencies," one South Korean contributor, Hwang Min-woo, told the Wall Street Journal.

Another amateur mapper from Australia, Sebastiaan van Oyen, told the BBC that he got involved out of a desire to "see how easy it would be to travel within the country."

Google admits that its map is still "not perfect." Netizens are invited to continue adding detail to fill in some of the remaining gaps.

And in case you were wondering, a Google spokesperson told the WSJ that the new map had nothing to do with chief executive Eric Schmidt's recent private visit to North Korea.

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