Google charts a careful course through Asia’s maps

Here’s a piece I wrote to coincide with Google’s launch of Street View in Thailand: Google charts a careful course through Asia’s maps

Google rushed out its panoramic Street View maps in Thailand on Friday as part of the country’s efforts to show tourist hot spots have recovered from last year’s floods.
But it also marked something of a change of fortunes for Google itself, which has weathered several storms in Asia over its mapping products.
Google rolled out 360-degree images of the streets of Bangkok, the resort island of Phuket and the northern city of Chiang Mai. Street View allows users to click through a seamless view of streets via the company’s Google Maps website.
Google plans to use a tricycle-mounted camera to photograph places that can’t be reached by car, such as parks and monuments. The Tourism Authority of Thailand will launch a poll to choose which sites to photograph first.
“We really want to show that Thailand isn’t still underwater,” said David Marx, Google’s Tokyo-based communications manager. “People should see Thailand for what it is.”
Pongrit Abhijatapong, marketing information technology officer at the Tourism Authority of Thailand, said it was less about showing that Thailand was back to normal.
“Rather, we hope tourists can see with their own eyes what Thailand is like. Street View will help their decision-making process in a positive way in regards to visiting Thailand.”
Google has not always been able to count on such enthusiasm elsewhere in Asia, illustrating the challenges the company has faced besides high-profile spats with China over privacy and India over removing offensive content.

Read the rest at Reuters.com.

Here are some links and bits and pieces I didn’t have room for:

Measures (Guidance) for Google, Inc. concerning Protection of “Secrecy of Communications”) – Japan’s Nov 11 2011 instructions to Google over privacy

Stefan Geens has done a great job charting the various sandbanks and undersea obstructions Google has encountered, particularly in Asia. His blog is well worth a read: Ogle Earth | Notes on the political and scientific impact of digital maps and geospatial imagery

I didn’t have enough space to go into detail about OpenStreetMap‘s challenge to Google, particularly in Asia. But in those parts of the region I know, it’s at least a match for Google, in places like Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Afghanistan. Their annual conference, State of the Map, will be held for the first time in Asia this year, in Tokyo on September 6.

My thanks to Daniel Kastl for explaining OSM and Japan to me. I understand that Yahoo Japan and OSM are about to announce some sort of cooperation in the next few days.

One thing I didn’t point out in the story is that Google doesn’t always get there first when it comes to street-level panoramic mapping. In Singapore, for example, gothere.sg was ahead of them, both in mapping and 360-degree views, and remains in some ways better than Google Maps. Hong Kong-based MapJack has offered street-level maps of Thailand’s Phuket. Chiangmai and several other resorts, though not Bangkok, since 2008.