SEOUL, South Korea — Google threw open its Google Maps program for North Korea to “citizen cartographers” around the world Tuesday, urging them to contribute whatever knowledge they have about one of the world’s most secretive countries.
The new map it published at the same time, built through crowdsourcing, provides people who normally visit the site for driving directions with a look, to the street level in some cases, of places they have previously read about only in articles discussing the North’s nuclear program. The map of Pyongyang, the capital, shows everything from landmarks to hotels and schools.
Users can zoom in for photos and even post comments, updating a map that had previously been mostly blank. The site also marks what it says are the locations of some of the police state’s notorious gulags.
The popular mapping program is focusing new attention on the North at a time when the country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States and its allies over tightened sanctions and has promised to conduct a third nuclear test.
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Google’s initiative came three weeks after its executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, visited Pyongyang in a highly publicized yet contentious trip organized by Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico. Schmidt, a proponent of Internet connectivity, said he urged North Korean officials to let more North Koreans use the Internet.
The map is still not very detailed in much of the country, though it does include four enormous prison camps,
At the moment, the map released Tuesday is far less detailed than North Korean maps available in South Korean bookstores, or the one on Google Earth.
In recent years, Internet bloggers and activists have relied on Google Earth, and defectors from North Korea, to locate several places believed to be prison camps.