China has launched “Map World,” its indigenously-developed answer to Google Maps. A beta version of the Chinese-language website went live on October 22nd.
A preliminary look reveals a site that is somewhat rudimentary but still surprisingly feature-rich. Much like Google Earth and Google Maps, users can select map, 3D or satellite-image views of the world, and there are toolkits that allow them to customize maps – for instance by marking significant places with a variety of personalized icons.
Naturally, the maps of China itself are more detailed than those for other parts of the world. One feature allows the viewer to drill down into each Chinese province, where troves of detailed information and imagery can be found (although not all of the provincial links work).
As would be expected from a state-sanctioned service like Map World, certain territorial claims are made that no doubt will be vigorously disputed by several of China’s neighbors, such as Chinese names for islands in the South and East China Seas whose sovereignty is anything but settled.
The timing of Map World’s launch is interesting, given China’s dustup with Google in March of this year over privacy and hacking issues regarding the American company’s search engine and other online products, several of which remain blocked in China as a result.
In May, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping announced strict new regulations aimed at online mapping services, including a requirement to apply for a license. In order to be approved, service providers must keep servers storing map data within the country, omit any military-related information and have no record of information leaks for the previous three years.
Google has a Chinese-language version of Google Maps and while the service is still available, it has not yet been approved for a license. Dozens of licenses have reportedly been granted to Chinese companies so far. Several foreign firms have also applied but it is not clear if any have gained approval.
The developer of Map World is none other than the State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. It will be interesting to see if the Bureau ever augments its service with a Street View-like capability for Chinese towns and cities.
We suspect that day may be a long way off.
(Map World screen image courtesy of Map World, via The Wall Street Journal; photo courtesy of the Chinese government)
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