Digital Traces in Context| Google Maps as Cartographic Infrastructure: From Participatory Mapmaking to Database Maintenance

Jean-Christophe Plantin


Google Maps has popularized a model of cartography as platform in which digital traces are collected through participation, crowdsourcing, and user-data harvesting, and used to constantly improve the mapping service. Based on this capacity, Google Maps has now attained a scale, reach, and social role similar to the existing infrastructures that typically organize cartographic knowledge in society. After describing Google Maps as a configuration relying on characteristics from both platforms and infrastructures, this article investigates what this hybrid configuration means for public participation in spatial knowledge in society. First, this turn to infrastructure for Google has consequences for the status of public participation in mapmaking, which switches from creating content to providing database maintenance activities. Second, if Google Maps opens up cartography to participation, it simultaneously recentralizes this participatory knowledge to serve its corporate interests. In this hybrid configuration, cartographic knowledge is therefore simultaneously more participatory and more enclosed.


algorithms, API, crowdsourcing, digital cartography, Google Maps, knowledge infrastructure, maintenance, participation, platform, Web mapping

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