India and Pakistan were among the first places to have access to Google's Map Maker service when it went online in 2008. Over five years later, Google and the people of those countries are benefiting mainly due to the efforts of one man: Jabran Rafique.
A web developer by day, Rafique, 30 years old, originally from Pakistan and now lives in London, has added over 60,000 mapping points to Google Mpas, making him one of the leading volunteer mapmakers in the world.
"The basic strategy is to start with the roads, then education and then services, before moving on to local businesses," explains Rafique to Pocket-lint when we met up with the novice cartographer at the UK launch of Google Maps in Bletchley Park.
Rafique started mapping the seven to eight towns that he had lived in because he knew them well, before moving on to bigger self-assigned projects.Â Starting at university, he had plenty of time on his hands to add data to Google’s barren mapping service.
It’s one of the main reasons Google offers its Map Maker service, explained Jessica Pfund, a Google Maps project manager based in the UK.
"Google wants accurate and comprehensive maps and when we started, the missing link was the ability for people to add their own data to improve the mapping technology. We couldn’t buy maps for India so the project was born."
It’s something Rafique jumped at the chance to do:Â "We would spend whole weekends adding mapping data, but now it's around 4 hours a week."
The idea of mapping his native country has become such a passion that Rafique has teamed with others to forge on with his hobby.
"I’ve formed a team with others to get more done. We have project goals and tasks that we assign to certain members to get it done."
It was with the help of his team that he has managed to map towns, cities, regions, and a university campus all since 2008.
"It’s about quality rather than quantity," Rafique tells us when we ask whether he is the number one volunteer mapper on the service. "There are a few people who’ve got more confirmed mapping points than me."
Not paid or rewarded by Google for his efforts, Rafique is one of the growing groups of people that are just keen to help others through the tools the internet now provides.
Google is hoping there are more Rafique’s out there. Launching the service in the UK, the Google Map Maker software allows anyone to quickly go onto a website and update the mapping data they see, be it adding a pathway in a school, or moving a business name so it is over the right location.
The data is of course verified, either by human or via a specially designed algorithm that is based on how useful you’ve been to the service before. The system is similar to that used by TomTom, allowing user feedback, verified via a number of means on their maps.
So now that the system is available in the UK, will Rafique switch allegiances and start mapping London instead? It’s certainly something he was looking forward to.
"I will map London now that it is available," he explains, although we suspect that his main focus will still be on creating more data for Pakistan.