Google Map Maker is a tool where crowd sourced knowledge is used to improve Google Maps. An intuitive user interface can be used to add, delete and change features on the map, which after approval appear almost instantly on the public side.
In all those years I have been active in the system in many roles. As a normal mapper, an Advocate, Regional Expert Reviewer, Power Mapper, Trusted Tester, Top Contributor, Regional Lead, Conference speaker at Summits and Keynote speaker at country openings.
In all those roles, my goal was the same. Creating an environment where mappers feel at home in such a way that they feel responsibility in creating and maintaining a better map. A community where solidarity and commitment are the main ingredients to fuel the map with new additions and weed out the bad edits.
It is my opinion that this cozy environment which breeds a healthy mapping community has changed the last year. The Regional Leads program was introduced after some serious attacks on the map in early 2015 and had to be Google's answer to the emotional distance many mappers felt between them, their passion and the Google Map Maker product.
Google's goal with the Regional Leads program was to transfer the responsibility for the map to the users. And I sincerely believe that the Googlers involved in the reopening of the Google Map Maker program and launch of the Regional Leads program in the third quarter of 2015 saw this as their goal. But sometimes processes just don't go the way you expected or hoped.
Rather than protecting the map with an umbrella of solidarity, commitment and responsibility, it seemed that judging became the main element of the Regional Leads program. With Regional Leads as Google assigned judges, the mapping community became divided in two groups of participants: Those who make edits, and those who judge those edits. Regional Leads also have in general more publishing power for their own edits than the ordinary mappers which put them even higher on the community ladder.
This was a significant deviation from the previous setup where there were no elevated editing rights for specific mapper groups and everyone could review, although review power was dependent on your Regional Expert Reviewer status and experience and trust in the system.
With all previous programs, mappers could grow gradually from being an ordinary mapper to higher levels, where publishing and reviewing power would increase while doing quality contributions. Fellow Regional Expert Reviewers could nominate other mappers to be added to the RER program, and in this way the community had a way to grow in the way they wanted.
But since the Regional Leads program things were different. You were either selected by Google or not. This not only was in my opinion against the idea of creating a responsible and committed community, it also puts a high load on those who are a regional lead. In the first months after the reopening I was the sole reviewer processing all the edits in Kazakhstan. A handful of other mappers had been appointed to the Regional Leads program, but they were almost completely inactive. In the spirit of the Regional Leads program, we were encouraged to look at as much pending edits as possible, and give review on the edits whenever reasonable. Response times should not be too long in order to get the whole Map Maker program rolling again.
But in this process Google made a terrible mistake. They added two options to vote positively on an edit, a neutral vote, and a negative vote which would deny the edit in almost all situations. But they left out the soft-deny option which had been present in the previous system, i.e. the option to comment on an edit with the selection that the edit would be denied in seven days if the mapper didn't react on the comments.
Although this seemed to be a small omission in the system, it moved the responsibility for the denial from the mapper to the reviewer. If in the previous situation a mapper didn't react on a review comment within seven days, they could only blame themselves for not being faster. But in the new setup, the reviewer was to blame, as they had pressed the deny button. On top of that, Google added an appeal system where every mapper could appeal against a deny, justified or not.
What this has created in my opinion is a system where the mappers and edits which are difficult to review are avoided. Good edits are easy and approved. Obvious spam is also easy and denied. But that grey area where we all have been as beginning mappers of maybe not so good edits is easily avoided. Leaving a large number of potential good mappers in the cold, because avoiding these edits is so much easier than making the choice between approving them with the possibility of creating horrible mappers, or denying them where you are the one to blame.
Having the community artificially divided in two groups with significant differences in power also creates other unpleasant situations. I am living as a foreigner in a country with a short independent history and still unhealed wounds from the recent past. In this particular country, most features have changed names and languages in recent years to disengage from the past. Recent tension in Ukraine has also spread to Kazakhstan, and where in the past mappers were almost always happy to add both language and name variations to a feature, the situation has changed where mappers are either in the Russian, or in the Kazakh group.
As the single active reviewer in the country, and with a neutral position on the issue of languages and naming of features, members of both sides of the line contacted me to approve their edits. Sometimes I reviewed those edits if I had the feeling that that would be helpful for a better map, but in most cases I just ignored the requests.
But ignoring is sometimes more difficult than it seems, especially if people tend to change their font size, vocabulary or both with each subsequent request.
With friends and acquaintances on both sides of the language barrier I didn't want to choose position in this matter. But I wanted to stop the flood of requests and demands. Practically the only way I had was to stop reviewing in Kazakhstan and disappear from that part of the map. I started mapping as a regular mapper in the Netherlands in a much more friendly environment, but even then the emails and hangout requests were coming in. Even several months after I effectively stopped reviewing.
With this all in mind I started thinking about what my role in the Regional Leads program would really bring for me and the community. For the community it was obviously nothing, because I was not reviewing anymore. And for me it didn't bring any added value either, because I could as a regular mapper still do what I liked to do, i.e. adding, creating and removing features to create a better map. And in my role as Top Contributor I would still be able to focus on the educational part.
Because of that I decided to resign from the Regional Leads program. Therefore effectively the first of June, I am not a Map Maker Regional Lead anymore. This relieves me of the task to judge about others, and is also the proper way to step out of the language discussion on the map in Kazakhstan. Because from now on, my opinion on this matter doesn't count anymore because I do not have the power to approve or deny any of those edits.
Hopefully Google will soon fix the gap between approvals and denials in Map Maker by adding the seven days delayed denial back to the system, as this may prevent others from taking the same road I had to take.
- Colegiul Național Grigore Moisil Onești1984 - 1988
- Societatea Română pentru Cartografie OnlineDirector Executiv, 2012 - present
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