Google Maps get to Ghana and 30 other African Countries


Detailed maps of West African nation Ghana are now accessible on Google Maps. Users can search up to date online maps, businesses and locations through any web browser or via Google Maps for mobile on data enable handsets. The search engine giant said its service is now available in 32 African countries including Kenya and South Africa. caught up with Google’s Ghana Office Lead Estelle Akofio-Sowah to find out how local businesses can take advantage of the service and what it all means for the ordinary Ghanaian. Why is Google doing this?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: Last year Google embarked on opening five offices in Sub-Saharan Africa – Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Uganda and Kenya. Today (Thursday) as we launch Google Maps here in Ghana we’re launching in 30 other African countries. This is a fairly big day for us and exciting too. How does it benefit the ordinary Ghanaian?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: There are serious and fun sides to Google Maps. On the serious side if you are a small or large business and you don’t have a web presence or you do have a web presence here is another space for free to show your location, put in your telephone number, email address, a picture or write about yourself for free. You don’t have to pay someone else to create a whole website for you anymore on the net because here is an opportunity and free tool to offer yourself to people. If you have a website already it is an additional tool to put out a link of yourself to your website.

On the fun side you can also do My Map to show the world your favourite places in Ghana. Anybody can do it. On a serious note Ghana can take advantage of it as a tourist destination to the rest of the world. Everyone in the rest of the world is planning to travel and are looking up for hotels, places of interest and the internet is a very affordable place to promote yourself unlike if a country wants to showcase itself on CNN or the BBC. That is very expensive but on the internet and Google Maps it is free.

The government could showcase all our schools and give information on their state to donors to find out which best suits their projects. If you are planning on road safety you can monitor where accidents occur and it’s easy for people to understand our visual maps. How technically inclined does one have to be to use Google Maps?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: I just created my map earlier in just five minutes. All you need is to find where your location is, click on that location and put in a few words – name it, description or phone number and you click save – that is as easy as it is. Of course, you can make your map more elaborate for those who are sophisticated and technically savvy. At Google we spend a great deal of time to keep our pages very clean and simple with very clear explanation on what to do. Basically, I think most people who know how to search, browse and send emails can use Google Maps for fun. There are different forms of Google Maps – you can just look at it as a map on paper with the streets or look at it in a satellite vision where you can actually see the top of your house or locate it or combine the two. Can it be used to find directions of places in Ghana?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: You can’t get directions but you can see your exact location. So you’ll be able to know what road you are on. If you have lost your way you’ll be able to see how far you have gone. It is useful especially if you’ve got a data enabled phone to find locations and plan a trip. How difficult was it to get this done for Ghana?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: The biggest challenge was the existing information. Our roads are not well named, we don’t have elaborate addressing system but the fun thing was that we can go and map it ourselves. So that means everyone can go and map out Ghana now for the rest of the world to find us. It took a bit longer but I think the map was pretty good. We found out with Yellow Pages application and they have over 25,000 business listings so immediately those 25,000 are on Google Maps. I did a competition with the Geography students of the University of Ghana and they did a lot of mapping themselves and had a lot of fun. How are you guarding against spins or deceptive information?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: There is a moderated system. Anybody can inform us when you see a wrong location and that will be corrected. It requires participation to make sure it is accurate. We need more people online to get this going and that will come with time. Generally, most of the information are accurate. Would it cost to access Google Maps on phones?

Estelle Akofio-Sowah: Obviously once you are using data on your phone whoever your provider is would charge you based on whatever data plan you have. But the actual Google Map is free but you have to pay your internet provider. Ghana is looking forward to the additional fibre optic cables this year which is going to bring about competition and hopefully a reduction. So it’s going to be exciting year in terms of the internet.

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