The story goes that in the early days of China’s opening to the world, a delegation touring the US hoovered up the free tourist maps at every roadhouse stop.
In those days China maps did not exist and US maps, even those showing the way to the local lookout, were highly strategic.
Much has changed since, but mapping in China remains a sensitive business. Publishing a politically incorrect map brings hefty penalties.
So it’s no surprise that the Chinese government has launched Map World, its own version of Google Earth.
It has the same basic functionality, with satellite view and map view, and so on. Currently it has detailed data just for mainland China, with no satellite images of Hong Kong and Taiwan, for example, below 5km.
What’s also missing is its Wiki-ability, allowing users to add photos and Wiki links.
Regulations on updating data are still under discussion, Min Yiren, deputy director of the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping (SBSM), told the China Daily. “All the mapping information has been permitted by the SBSM and related national security departments,” he added.
Min told the FT that Map World comes in three versions – top secret, government and public. This is the public version (and here).
Since last year China has required online mapping companies to apply for a license, and so far 31 companies, including Nokia, have been awarded licenses.
But the big absence is Google, which has not yet applied for a license, and it’s hard to imagine that it will, given the censorship required. Which means one more feature on its Android platform that it’s going to have to buy from someone else.