Expat Tech: Google Maps Coming to Argentina

As of Monday, November 17, 2008, that big blank space on the photo at the right should be a bit more filled in like our neighbors in Brazil.  That’s right, after a long wait, Google Maps is finally coming to Argentina.

When I was back in NYC, I pretty much used  Google Maps on a weekly basis. So, I was fairly disappointed when I came here and discovered that Google Maps did not cover Argentina.  They had a satellite view, but absolutely no street level maps. This seemed a bit surprising given that Buenos Aires is one of the 10 largest cities in the world.

After doing some initial research, it appeared that Google did not yet have what it considers to be high quality data for geocoding positions in Argentina. In an exclusive February 2008 interview with infobaeprofesional.com (es | en), Google’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Latin America, Alberto Arébalos, stated this very reason and also mentioned that gathering that data was a very time consuming manual process. He said that he expected to have maps for Argentina in the first half of 2008.  Well, it took a bit longer than that…  (An interesting point he also mentioned in the article was that Google was tackling issues of low Internet penetration and fighting for increased ad spending as against more traditional forms of media in South America.)

Luckily, several others were filling the map void, including a goverment run site built on open-source software – the Buenos Aires Interactive Map. This interactive map of the city is a public service from the city government that allows you to geographically locate adresses, find relevant information about each building including its photograph, find the shortest path to go from one place to another on foot or obtain driving directions, access a considerable set of useful information regarding the city including satellite photographs, historical flights and much more.  While it’s only in Spanish, it’s pretty easy to figure out. The major problem with it is that it seems to be down frequently and is sometimes slow to respond.

With Google Maps now coming, I think it’s going to be time to say good-bye to that site though. Google just always seems to do things so much better than anyone else. The initial launch will include road maps of major cities, tourist destinations, and national parks. Point to point directions will not initially be available though and may take several additional months to launch (one reason to still use the government site). Business listings will also come at a later point.

Google Maps also includes their powerful API which allows other web sites to create mashups showing different data displayed on their maps.  It will be interesting to see what new mashup sites launch for the area as well. It will also be interesting to see if other sites, like Guia Oleo drop their existing maps and go with Google.

We’ll report back on Monday and see if it’s all that it’s promised to be.

Desde el lunes, Google se suma a la competencia argentina de los mapas online  (english) [Clarin]