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Google releases detailed map of North Korea, gulags and all

Washington Post, By Chico Harlan

Until Tuesday, North Korea appeared on Google Maps as a near-total white space — no roads, no train lines, no parks and no restaurants. The only thing labeled was the capital city, Pyongyang.

This all changed when Google, on Tuesday, rolled out a detailed map of one of the world’s most secretive states. The new map labels everything from Pyongyang’s subway stops to the country’s several city-sized gulags, as well as its monuments, hotels, hospitals and department stores.

According to a Google blog post, the maps were created by a group of volunteer “citizen cartographers,” through an interface known as Google Map Maker. That program — much like Wikipedia — allows users to submit their own data, which is then fact-checked by other users, and sometimes altered many times over. Similar processes were used in other once-unmapped countries like Afghanistan and Burma.

In the case of North Korea, those volunteers worked from outside of the country, beginning from 2009. They used information that was already public, compiling details from existing analog maps, satellite images, or other Web-based materials. Much of the information was already available on the Internet, said Hwang Min-woo, 28, a volunteer mapmaker from Seoul who worked for two years on the project.

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