Crowdsourcing has a long history of producing things of value. The clearest example is with Wikipedia, where users have produced an encyclopedia that surpasses most alternatives. Whilst the Google search results rely on the linking habits of web users, that is largely the extent of their forays into crowdsourcing user input directly into products.
That appears to be slowly changing with Google Maps however. In 2008 they launched Map Maker to allow users to edit maps in countries like Pakistan and Vietnam, where data was scarce via traditional methods.
They announced this week that they are extending the Map Maker service to the UK, allowing users to add details to local maps, including extra information about hiking trails or details about buildings.
The suggested changes are then reviewed, both by other users and by Google staff, and if the changes are useful, they're added to the live site.
Users can now add four types of content to their local maps:
- Places - such as a gym, bank, cinema or bus station.
- Roads, Rivers and Railways - including hiking trails and bicycle routes.
- Building Outlines - allowing the inclusion of 3D graphics for offices, houses, monuments and other structures.
- Natural Features and Political Boundaries - including lakes, parks and shrubbery.
The new facility allows users much greater control over the maps of their local area. Prior to the launch, the only feedback mechanism available was via the problem reporting function.
Google are encouraging users to edit each others additions by providing a clearly defined button showing the alterations made by other users.
User feedback is also provided, with each user given a confidence score based on the number of submissions that have been approved. As ones rating improves, fewer checks are required before changes are published.
"We have a trust moderation system in place and that algorithmically figures out whether we can trust this person and how sensitive the feature is," project manager Jessica Pfund told the BBC.
"No matter how trusted you are if you change a very prominent feature, like a Tate art gallery, it's going to have to go through a lot more moderation than if you add a small restaurant to the rural countryside."
It's expected that changes will begin to occur within a few days of alterations being submitted.