Google Maps Can Benefit Ordinary People [interview]
May 19, 2011 (FOROYAA Newspaper/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --
Mr. Momodou Janneh, a Google mapper, talks about the benefits of Google maps to ordinary people. He argued that Google maps are a potential catalyst for development to deprived communities.
You are one of the representatives of Google in West Africa. How did that come about?
Basically, I represent Google as a map making advocate for the area from the Senegalese border, all the way to Angola. I have been mapping Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and recently Sudan. I was part of the team that mapped Southern Sudan in preparation for the referendum held recently.
As a Google mapper, how do you go about your trade?
Well, there is a site called Google map maker where one can go to. There is a satelite imagery on the site that one can modify or identify structures such as roads, mosques and churches, police stations and hospitals. Knowing some of these important places is essential. In an emergency, it is necessary that one knows where a hospital or police station is located. With the latest telephones one can get direction to where the nearest hospital or police station is situated. We hope to make it as good as Europe where one can get into his car, press his satellite navigation system and it will take the person where he wants to go.
What does an average African or Gambian stand to gain from Google maps?
Governments can use Google maps to find out where basic facilities such as hospitals, schools and roads are not available. The maps can identify communities that lack these facilities; Government can use this vital information to spread development to areas where it is much needed. Even aid agencies and charities can use Google maps to locate deprived communities. They in turn can use the information to help those communities.
Can an average Gambian who struggles to access clean drinking water, use Google maps to reduce his poverty?
If one does not know where one comes from, he/she may not know where he/she is going to. Once one gets the maps, one knows where the wells and water tanks are. Knowing the location of these facilities is of great importance to everyone. Google maps are tools that can be used by everybody.
How did you start working with Google?
Janneh: I started with Google maps because I was looking for aerial imagery of my residence in Sanyang. With satellite imagery, one can identify his individual house or plot of land without having to step foot at the place.
What does it take to be a Google mapper?
All what it takes is to know the area one wants to map.
With Google map, is it possible for me to sit down in Los Angeles and look at recent developments in Wuli?
It is possible. I have succeeded in getting a lot of the map imagery updated. I'm working to update Gambia's imagery. Those Gambians abroad, who have been sending money to build a house, can monitor the progress of the structure through the satellite imagery. However, in order for one to do that he/she must know the site of the building. Google map is a tool that enables one to monitor areas thousands of miles from where one lives.
Before one monitors through Google maps, the person must be connected to the internet. Considering that most Africans or Gambians have no access to internet, is this idea of Google mapping not beyond their wildest dreams?
The ordinary people need roads, hospitals and taps, with the satellite imagery; it can tell the authorities responsible for the provision of these facilities that so and so community need them.
Are you the only Google representative in Gambia?
I have heard that some people approached some companies claiming to represent Google. Well, i have found out that those claiming to be Google's agents are not representing the company. What I want to tell the public is that there is likely to be more than one person that is doing good work to help the people, but it is important to always check properly before entering into a deal with anyone who claims to be an agent of Google.
How does one scrutinise the credibility of a person claiming to represent Google in this country?
Janneh: One way to establish the credibility of these claimants is to send an email to email@example.com This is my email address. Another way is to contact Google directly. I recently came from Washington where I had a meeting with some staff of Google. When I put the question to them that whether they have another representative in Gambia apart from me or not, they said they are not aware of any other representative in Gambia,
How do Google maps help students in their studies especially those doing Geography?
It opens a whole lot of opportunities for them. It gives one the opportunity to map areas where one has never step foot. This is possible with the help of the satellite imagery. I was able to map Southern Sudan without having stepped foot there. The closest I got to that place was Kenya.
Where do you rank in the table of Google mappers?
I am ranked number 57 in the world. When I say in the world, am talking about few millions.
Before you started mapping Gambia, it used to be non Gambians who were mapping this country. How accurate was their mapping of this country?
The maps those non Gambians drew turned out to be accurate.
You recently had some training. What were these trainings aimed at?
The trainings were aimed at as many Gambians as possible on Google mapping.
Where were the trainees drawn from?
The trainees came from several institutions. Some came from Lands Department, Social Security and even Qcell.
When do you expect to organise training? How does one take part in it?
Am hoping to organize another training soon rather than later. Any one who is interested in mapping his community is invited. If there is any department or institution that is interested in training its staff on Google mapping, let them contact me and am ready to train their staff free of charge.
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