Putting North Korea on the map

If you've happened to pan over northeastern Asia in Google Maps, you may have noticed something odd. The roads, water bodies, markers, and labels that cover the extent of South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China are curiously absent over North Korea.

North Korea blank on Google Maps

In searching for an explanation I've found a lot of speculation, mostly about North Korea's authoritarian government, the country being cut-off from the West, the poverty, and so on. But these factors shouldn't necessarily prevent Google from mapping features in the DPRK, especially since high-resolution satellite imagery is available on Google Maps. After all, Bing has labeled the most basic features. Instead, the [partial?] answer seems to be that Google simply hasn't published the data. From a topic on the Google Maps Help Forum: 

"We never launched coverage in some countries because we simply weren't satisfied with the map data we had available. We're constantly searching for the best map data we can find, and sometimes will delay launching coverage in a country if we think we can get more comprehensive data." 

There's some good news, though, for those who want to browse detailed maps of North Korea. Google Map Maker has opened up the DPRK for contribution (along with 187 other countries as of this writing) and it looks like there is already a lot of detail.

In contrast to Google Maps, North Korea has more features in Map Maker

Features added to Google Map Maker in Pyongyang

Content from Map Maker may eventually lead to a satisfactory map of North Korea and publication on Google Maps. Until then, Map Maker, satellite view on Google Maps, and Panoramio photos on Google Earth are pretty good resources. Also have a look at the massive amount of data available from the North Korea Uncovered project. There you can download a KML file with layers for infrastructure, palaces, artillery, and many other interesting sites.There was a WSJ article about the project.

Together, all of these resources should help take some of the mystery out of the blank spot on the map.


New satellite images show the demolition of Tangjialing

New satellite images in the recent round of updates for Google Earth included extensive updates in Beijing. This is particularly interesting because it shows the transformation of an area known as Tangjialing in northwestern Beijing (Haidian District).

If you had visited the Tangjialing community a year ago, you would have seen a neighborhood typical of the ones on the outskirts of Beijing. If you visit it today, you see this:

The ruins of Tangjialing, March 2011

Currently, Google Earth has images from October, 2010, that show the demolition of Tangjialing in only a matter of months. The village goes from being completely intact in May to mostly demolished in October, and most of the buildings visible in the October images are gone now. Panoramio images suggest that even going into summer, Tangjialing was still a functioning community.

If the former residents weren't satisfied with their living conditions there, and they were compensated fairly for their relocation, then this development would seem like a win-win. Otherwise, that's a few thousand more people resenting the guys at the top whose policies are rapidly reshaping Beijing's urban landscape.

A KML file outlining the most recent image updates around the world can be downloaded at:

You can track image updates for a specific location at: